May 16, 2011

EDMONTON — The involvement of one of the Church's shepherds in "a heinous sexual crime" goes against everything the Catholic Church stands for, says Archbishop Richard Smith.

Catholics have a deep sense, "almost in our genes," of the beauty, sacredness and dignity of the sacrament of Holy Orders, Smith said in reaction to Bishop Raymond Lahey's guilty plea to a charge of importing child pornography.

The role of the shepherd is to guide people on the path to holiness, said Smith, vice-president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. When a shepherd lives up to that call, it affects everyone positively. But when he betrays that call, people feel hurt, angry and embarrassed.

"It's hard to put into words what people are feeling over this and what it means," Smith said in a May 4 interview. "It's just sad beyond expression."

The Canadian bishops condemn sexual exploitation, especially the exploitation of children, "in the strongest terms possible," he said.

While priests and Catholic laity feel hurt and embarrassed by Lahey’s conviction, Smith said, “We can’t lose sight of the hurt that is done first and foremost to the victims.”

The archbishop, a native of Halifax, said he is familiar with the Antigonish, N.S., Diocese where Lahey was bishop for six years.

“They are people of deep goodness,” he said. They have a desire to reach out and help others. It is not surprising they now feel shock, hurt, anger, betrayal and confusion about their former bishop’s actions.

Bishop James Dunn, the new bishop of Antigonish, and his priests are committed to helping Catholics there heal from this situation and move forward, Smith said.

Priests, he said, have suffered for years of “being painted in the minds of many people with the same brush” as clergy convicted of sexual crimes.

Catholic laity distinguish between most priests and those guilty of sexual abuse and they rally around their priests, he said.

“That sensitivity is not always extended in the larger society.”

Smith said it is “impossible to speculate” what canonical punishments Lahey may face from the Church. That issue is in the hands of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which will investigate