ANTIGONISH, N.S. - The Pope has defrocked a Roman Catholic bishop who was convicted earlier this year of importing child pornography into Canada.
The Holy See in Rome has stripped Raymond Lahey of his clerical duties in what is one of the most serious penalties that the Roman Catholic Church can impose, the Diocese of Antigonish, N.S., said Wednesday.
The decision means Lahey, a former bishop of Antigonish, can no longer work as a cleric nor preside at any religious services or sacraments.
Archbishop Richard Smith, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Lahey's actions have left the Catholic community deeply wounded.
"This has left Catholics just shaken to the core," Smith said in an interview.
"It has affected the Church ... and left us all shattered and broken-hearted. The impact is most strongly felt in the Maritimes and the Diocese of Antigonish."
In January, Lahey was sentenced to 15 months in jail and two years of probation after he was caught at the Ottawa airport in September 2009 with hundreds of pornographic images of young boys on his laptop and a handheld device.
But because Lahey was given double credit for the time he served in custody before his sentencing, he was released on probation upon conclusion of his trial.
Smith said Pope Benedict XVI has also ordered Lahey, 71, to continue his daily prayers.
"The Holy Father has chosen not to release him from that obligation, to make sure he continues to pray ... in reparation for the sin and the scandal that's been caused by this," the Edmonton-based bishop said.
Antigonish Bishop Brian Joseph Dunn issued a statement saying the Vatican's decision closes a dark chapter in the Church's history.
"This decision reminds all of us of the serious harms that come from all forms of pornography, especially child pornography," Antigonish Bishop Brian Joseph Dunn said in a statement.
"It also means that this action concludes both the criminal and canonical processes that are connected with this matter."
Dunn said any sacraments that Lahey performed prior to the Pope's decision such as baptisms and marriages remain valid.
In August 2009, weeks before he was charged, Lahey helped broker the settlement of a $15-million class-action lawsuit brought by former child sexual abuse victims in the Antigonish diocese.
At the time, he apologized to the victims and said they were entitled to protection from priests.
Lahey's defence lawyer, Michael Edelson, did not return messages seeking comment.
— By Michael Tutton in Halifax