Accountants to enforce strict rules at Ottawa Catholic churches

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‘Questionable transactions’ at Blessed Sacrament under investigation

The Ottawa Citizen

04 March 2012

By Andrew Duffy and Meghan Hurley

The recent financial regulations from the Archdiocese of Ottawa come in response to a scandal at Blessed Sacrament Church, which erupted last April after the Citizen published a story that described former pastor Joseph LeClair’s casino gambling problem and the ease with which he could access church funds. Photograph by: JULIE OLIVER , The Ottawa Citizen

The Archdiocese of Ottawa is hiring a “team of accountants” to help implement strict new financial rules at local churches.

The new rules came into force Jan. 1.

In a recent release, the diocese said it will hire up to five contract accountants to visit parishes and “help facilitate and monitor implementation of the Protocol on Parish Financial Administration.”

The protocol introduced a raft of checks and balances to ensure donations are properly collected, spent and accounted for by church officials.

The measures were introduced in the aftermath of a Citizen story, published in April, that described Rev. Joseph LeClair’s gambling problem and the paucity of financial controls at his former parish, Blessed Sacrament.

In September, after a lengthy audit by Deloitte and Touche LLP, the diocese requested the police investigate “questionable transactions” made by LeClair during the last five years of his term as pastor.

More than five months later, however, LeClair is still awaiting the results of that investigation.

Ottawa police said Friday that investigators are continuing to review materials from the diocese, including the audit, and conducting interviews. The investigation is expected to conclude “in the next few months.”

LeClair remains on sabbatical while the police finish their probe.

“I can only say that we are now in March and the sword continues to hang over Father Joe’s head,” LeClair’s lawyer, Ian Stauffer, told the Citizen in an email exchange this week.

“Your readers are surely asking: why would the Archbishop, who clearly knows his own parishioners are totally opposed to prolonging a good man’s agony, ask the police to spend taxpayers’ money to deal with an internal issue?”

Stauffer said the case should never have been handed to the police.

“This decision was made despite strenuous objections from the parish council and hundreds of parishioners,” he said.

“I am personally not aware of one person, other than the Archbishop, who has asked the Ottawa Police Service to become involved.”

Stauffer said the diocese has refused to give LeClair the audit that triggered the police investigation, even though his client co-operated fully in the preparation of that report.

Diocesan officials refused comment Friday on Stauffer’s contentions.

LeClair admitted in April that he had a gambling problem. He was subsequently removed from the parish and spent four months at Southdown Institute, where he received addiction counselling.

An immensely popular priest, LeClair has denied taking church money or using it to gamble.

The Citizen revealed that LeClair racked up personal credit card bills of more than $490,000 in 2009 and 2010 while gambling heavily at Casino du Lac-Leamy. It also found that he could write cheques to himself without receipts; that Sunday collections were kept in an unlocked office and often not counted until days later; and that the church’s finance committee did not meet to review financial statements.

According to new rules issued by the diocese, collection money must now be stored in “tamper-evident” bags; all cheques issued by a parish must be counter-signed; and church finance committees must meet at least four times a year.

Other rules have also been established for bill payments, electronic banking, credit card use, financial reporting, budgeting, tax filing, audits and computer security.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

1 Response to Accountants to enforce strict rules at Ottawa Catholic churches

  1. Sylvia says:

    Some good news out of this mess: the implementation of “strict new financial rules at local churches.” Long long long overdue!

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