A Roman Catholic bishop has pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography for the purposes of importation to Canada.

Raymond Lahey, former head of the diocese of Antigonish, N.S., told an Ottawa court Wednesday that he possessed and imported child pornography for personal use.

Lahey's trial was expected to take three days, but 45 minutes after the case was supposed to begin the defence and Crown lawyers announced they had reached a deal.

The 70-year-old, through his lawyer, then pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography for the purposes of importing it to Canada. After defence lawyer Michael Edelson said the pornography was intended only for personal use, the judge agreed to remove a charge of distributing child pornography.

The grey-haired cleric spoke only once during the proceedings, uttering the words "Guilty, your honour," when he was arraigned on the amended charge.

Lahey then stunned the courtroom by telling the judge he did not want to apply for bail, but wanted to go straight to jail, even before a formal sentence is handed down. He was taken into custody.

"He's giving up his right to bail," Edelson told court. "He wants to be in jail as of today's date."

Edelson also told the court his client feels profound remorse and guilt for his crime and wanted to start serving time now in order to get credit after sentencing. Lahey faces a minimum sentence of one year in jail and a maximum sentence of 10 years.

His next court appearance is May 26.

Lahey was charged in September 2009 after he was arrested at the Ottawa airport while returning to Nova Scotia from a trip to Europe. His passport contained stamps for Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Border Services agents said Lahey was asked if he had any electronics as part of routine screening. He said he had two cellphones, but then hesitated.

He was asked again if he had any laptops, and again he hesitated. Agents reported he would not make eye contact and they flagged him for secondary inspection.

They found Lahey's passport revealed extensive travel to countries notorious as sources of child pornography.

Hundreds of pornographic photos, videos

When they searched his bags, they found a computer, several memory sticks and memory cards.

Court heard on Wednesday that a forensic audit of the laptop and handheld device found 588 graphic images of child pornography, 33 videos and pornographic stories featuring children enslaved and degraded. They also found sex toys.

The judge and lawyers reviewed the images privately on a police detective's laptop in the witness box before Justice Jack Kirkland had them sealed.

Lahey initially told police he was attracted to men aged 20, but officers said a few of the boys involved in sex acts whose images were captured on Lahey's laptop looked to be as young as eight.

A native of Newfoundland and Labrador, Lahey resigned from the Antigonish diocese the day after he was charged.

In August 2009, he brokered a $15-million settlement for victims of sexual abuse by priests of the diocese of Antigonish dating back to 1950. At the time, Lahey said sorry to the victims on behalf of the church.

"I want to formally apologize to every victim and to their families for the sexual abuse that was inflicted upon those young people who were entitled instead to the trust and protection of priests of the church," the bishop said in 2009.

"I want them to know how terribly sorry we are, how wrong this abuse was, and how we are now trying to right these past wrongs."

Lahey has been staying with other Ottawa priests since he was granted bail.

Vatican reacts

The Vatican said Wednesday that with Lahey's criminal trial now over, the church will now impose its own disciplinary measures against him.

"The Catholic Church condemns sexual exploitation in all its forms, especially when perpetrated against minors," said a statement from the Vatican's press office.

"The Holy See will continue to follow the canonical procedures in effect for such cases, which will result in the imposition of the appropriate disciplinary or penal measures."

It was not immediately clear what punishment Lahey could face from the Vatican. High-ranking members of the clergy who sexually abuse minors can be defrocked, while lesser punishments include being forbidden from celebrating mass publicly.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops also released a statement on Wednesday and said they will continue to try to bring healing to the victims and their families.

"Recognizing the confusion and anger that this case has engendered among many of the faithful, we underscore our pastoral concern for those who have experienced great pain as a result of these events," said the statement.

"In a special way our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the diocese of Antigonish and all the Atlantic region."

Bishop Brian Dunn, who took over as the head of the diocese of Antigonish after Lahey's resignation, has scheduled a news conference for Thursday to discuss the court proceedings.

With files from The Associated Press