I know it is correct — politically and otherwise — to be scandalized by news that child pornography was allegedly discovered on a laptop computer belonging to the now-suddenly former Roman Catholic bishop of Antigonish, Raymond Lahey.
I am. Up to a point.
If the material in question includes photographs of actual children — based on the charges, they could as easily be photos of youngish-looking adults posing as teenagers or even illustrations — then someone exploited those children to create the images. There are also now insinuations — unconfirmed — that Lahey frequented well-known sex tourism destinations like Thailand. If Lahey, even indirectly, contributed to actual child exploitation, he should be held accountable.
That said, the portrait that emerges from the rush to rummage through his life and closets is of a complex, complicated man seemingly in continuing conflict with himself.
According to Shane Earle — a survivor of abuse at the infamous Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland — Father Lahey, then a parish priest just outside St. John’s, provided refuge for many of the boys abused at the orphanage. “He was all these idealistic things you want in a father,” Earle told the Globe and Mail.
But during one of his visits to Lahey’s home in the mid-1980s, Earle says he discovered “graphic pictures of aroused teenage boys” in Lahey’s bedroom.
To be clear, Earle does not suggest Lahey ever physically or sexually assaulted him. Neither, to this point at least, does anyone else.
And, whatever his own private fantasies, Father Lahey never publicly condoned actual abuse.
Ironically, just before his arrest, he even helped negotiate a landmark $15-million settlement of sexual abuse claims against priests in Antigonish, the diocese he had gone on to head.
Shane Earle wasn’t surprised. “I remembered as a child how concerned he was about child abuse,” he told the National Post, “so I knew there was a side of him that could be an asset to this whole process.”
There’s much we don’t know about Lahey’s case. It is early to rush to judgment. But it is possible —probable — that, even if the allegations are true, Lahey is not the only villain.
Based on what we already know from way too many other proven cases, the real villain is a Roman Catholic church whose unhealthy, unholy demands on those who serve it created a sexual pressure cooker primed to explode. And it has. Too often. It is time to deal with that.