29 October 2013
By Meghan Hurley, OTTAWA CITIZEN
Photograph by: Wayne Cuddington , Ottawa Citizen
OTTAWA — The Archdiocese of Ottawa received but did not pass on to Blessed Sacrament Church for 10 months an insurance settlement of more than $379,000 to replace money police allege was stolen by a former parish priest.
Blessed Sacrament’s current pastor, Rev. Galen Bank, said the archdiocese received the insurance settlement at the end of 2012. A reserve fund created for emergencies using a portion of the settlement had already made $15,000 in interest by the time Blessed Sacrament was finally given the settlement early this month.
“We’ve been in negotiations with (the archdiocese) in how to proceed over the last few months and working on the transfer of the funds,” Bank said.
The archdiocese did not respond Monday to calls and emails from the Citizen about the delay.
Bank and the church’s finance council decided to announce the settlement at masses this past weekend. News that the insurance settlement cleared the church deficit was met with a round of applause at a mass on Sunday.
At the end of 2012, Blessed Sacrament was more than $64,000 in the red.
The church would have also finished the third quarter of 2013 in a deficit position, but it received a surprise $100,000 donation.
Rob Lewis, a member of the parish finance council, said at the end of a mass on Sunday that the insurance settlement helps to close a dark chapter of turmoil, embarrassment and anger that began when the former pastor, Rev. Joseph Leclair, was charged with fraud, theft, money laundering and breach of trust in July 2012.
The Citizen first raised serious questions about financial irregularities at Blessed Sacrament in an article published in April 2011. It revealed Leclair had a casino gambling problem and had incurred $490,000 in personal credit card bills during the years 2009 and 2010. More than $137,000 of those credit card charges were the result of advances taken at Casino du Lac-Leamy.
The Citizen also discovered that Blessed Sacrament had few controls on the way in which church money was handled. Leclair had the ability to write cheques to himself without receipts, Sunday collections were kept in an unlocked rectory office and often not counted for days, and the church’s finance committee did not meet to review financial statements.
A new financial protocol introduced by the archdiocese included a raft of checks and balances to ensure donations are properly collected, spent and accounted for by church officials.
A Blessed Sacrament finance council of seven appointed members was also created in January 2012.
Robin McIntyre, a member of the finance council, said Monday the first priority for the committee was to create a plan to stabilize the church finances.
The next step was to find ways to increase church revenue and reduce operating costs.
“We tried to look at it very systematically and just try to get the fundamentals in place so that this year we would be in a better place,” McIntyre said. “There was information available, so it wasn’t like we had to remain at ground zero.”
Ottawa police began an investigation into financial irregularities at the church after an audit was conducted by the firm, Deloitte and Touche.
The 11-month police investigation covered the period from January 2006 to May 2011. The investigation found that more than $240,000 was allegedly misappropriated through cheques issued by the priest on church accounts. Another $160,000 of parish funds were unaccounted for, the police said.
Leclair was charged in July 2012 with fraud, theft, money laundering and breach of trust; his preliminary hearing is set to begin on Jan. 20.