The Canonical Fate of Raymond Lahey

In a very rare move, the Holy See has decreed that Raymond Leahy, disgraced former bishop of the Diocese of Anitiginosh, Nova Scotia, has been dismissed from the clerical state. The brief press release from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops lays out clearly and succinctly the canonical effects that this administrative action carries:

According to Canon 292 of the Code of Canon Law, the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state has the following effects: loss of the rights and duties attached to the clerical state, except for the obligation of celibacy; prohibition of the exercise of any ministry, except as provided for by Canon 976 of the Code of Canon Law in those cases involving danger of death; loss of all offices and functions and of all delegated power, as well as prohibition of the use of clerical attire. Raymond Lahey has accepted the Decree of Dismissal, which also requires him to pray the Liturgy of the Hours in reparation for the harm and the scandal he has caused, and for the sanctification of clergy.

This is, thankfully, a very rare circumstance indeed that the Church is dealing with: a bishop found guilty of a grave public crime in both the civil-criminal and canonical spheres of jurisdiction. While we are all too familiar with similarly distasteful examples involving priests, when the offender is of episcopal rank the situation is exceedingly delicate for the Church, although not for the reasons that the average person, jaded by the decades of cover-ups and paper shuffling, would expect. The greatest fear with a disgraced bishop is that, if so inclined, he could “go rogue” and begin ordaining men as priests and even bishops without approval, creating a potentially messy schismatic situation with potentially long-lasting ramifications. Such ordinations outside the communion with the Bishop of Rome would of course be gravely illicit, and would bring immediate ecclesiastical penalties upon all involved. But, at the end of the day, they would most likely still be valid ordinations.

So I find it a fitting arrangement that the decree for Lahey has stripped him of all privileges of his presbyteral and episcopal state, but has re-iterated the obligations he assumed at his own ordination: to live celibately, to observe perfect and perpetual continence, and to pray faithfully the Liturgy of the Hours, in his case with the special intention of reparation for his failings and their impact on the entire community. It has a very old-fashioned ring to it, but he really has been directed to live out his days in prayer and penance. And I for one cannot see a better arrangement the Church could have made in this sad case.