Counsellors to help N.S. Roman Catholics deal with bishop scandal

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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HALIFAX - Counsellors have been hired to help Roman Catholics in Nova Scotia deal with the emotional fallout from Bishop Raymond Lahey's child porn allegations.
"I think that it is a bit unique," Rev. Paul Abbass, spokesman for Antigonish diocese, said Wednesday. "We're trying to be just very pastoral. ... If we don't do this to the best of our ability, then we're not church."
Allegations of possessing and importing child pornography were laid against Lahey, the former head of the diocese, within days of him brokering a $15-million dollar settlement between the church and sexual abuse victims from the diocese.
"This is coming right on the heels of the settlement . . . in which we're finally facing a very dark period of our lives," Abbass said. "We've never had to deal with something like this before."
Family Service of Eastern Nova Scotia has links to the diocese and is partially funded by the church. The agency has been hired to provide counselling to parishioners in group sessions and will also meet with individuals who need more help, Abbass said.
The idea is give people an opportunity to "debrief . . . or to voice what they are feeling," he said. "I'm sure at times it will be an emotional conversation and at times an angry conversation."
It's important to bring in professionals to help foster the maximum amount of healing, the priest said.
Each session will be hosted by two facilitators. A day and a half session will also be held for the clergy from the diocese so they can address their feelings.
Halifax lawyer John McKiggan negotiated the settlement with Ron Martin, whose brother made allegations of abuse in a suicide note in 2002. He said he has no problem with the diocese offering counselling to parishioners.
"The diocese made the same offer to survivors" of alleged abuse, McKiggan said in an email message.
He said he's not worried about the diocese funding the class-action suit.
"Under terms of the settlement agreement, the diocese agreed to provide a debenture on all the property of the diocese to secure its financial obligations under the class action," McKiggan said. "We negotiated that clause into the settlement agreement to ensure that there would be sufficient funds available to compensate anyone in the class action that has a valid claim."
Abbass stressed compensation is still a priority for the diocese.
"We'll get back to it," he said. "We have the time. We don't have to come up with the process instantly."
As part of the settlement, the court ordered that notices be posted on all bulletin boards of each church in the diocese for 60 days. The notices and postings will be available up to and including Dec. 7, 2009.

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Antigonish

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