Father Joseph LeClair, a popular Ottawa priest whose handling of church finances is now part of an audit at Blessed Sacrament Church, will be leaving the parish at the end of the month.
Father Joseph Muldoon, episcopal vicar for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa, read a letter in church Sunday from Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.
In it, Prendergast announced that LeClair will take a series of steps to deal with his gambling addiction, which he “courageously acknowledged in public during masses on Palm Sunday weekend.”
The steps were agreed upon at a meeting Prendergast held with LeClair on Wednesday in the archbishop’s office.
During that meeting, Prendergast said, LeClair submitted his resignation as pastor of Blessed Sacarment Parish. It will take effect after the final Sunday mass on May 27.
LeClair will participate in a previously arranged pilgrimmage to Ireland, then visit with his family in Prince Edward Island.
Soon after, he will enter a specialized addictions treatment program that assists priests, brothers and nuns, Prendergast said in his letter to parishioners.
When LeClair completes the program, the diocese will arrange aftercare for him and discuss his future ministry, the archbishop said.
“Concerns have been raised about the use of parish funds in light of Father Joe’s addiction,” Prendergast noted, adding that LeClair is co-operating with an ongoing audit of Blessed Sacrament’s finances.
Prendergast pledged that parishioners will ultimately be informed of the results of that audit.
“In closing, I invite you to join me in praying for Father Joe, that he will truly benefit from his time away so that he may, in turn, help others,” Prendergast said.
LeClair, who was sitting at the front of the church as the letter was read, thanked diocesan officials for their care of him. “It is very fitting that I take some time and try to rejuvenate,” he said.
Last weekend, LeClair announced that he would be leaving Blessed Sacrament, but gave parishioners no timeline for his departure. LeClair said he was “transitioning,” and had not yet decided whether to quit the priesthood, seek another posting within Ottawa, or move back to Prince Edward Island, where he was born and raised.
The events of the past two weeks follow the Citizen’s publication of a story that revealed LeClair received more than $137,000 in cash advances on his credit card at Casino du Lac-Leamy in 2009 and 2010.
During those same years, he racked up personal credit card bills of more than $490,000, most of it through the use of cash advances.
He repaid Visa more than $424,000.
LeClair has admitted that he had a gambling problem during those years.
He has also insisted that he did not steal from the church, but used his winnings and personal funds to finance his gambling.
The financial audit ordered by the diocese began in early March.
As part of that process, auditors from Deloitte and Touche LLP raised questions about $250,000 worth of cheques issued to LeClair from church accounts between 2006 and 2010, the Citizen has learned.
LeClair had the authority during those years to issue a cheque, even to himself, without another signature.
Many of the transactions had no receipts or other documentation to support them.
New measures have since been put in place to improve financial accountability at the church, a registered charity. Among other things, cheques must now be counter-signed.
Canada’s tax system offers generous incentives to encourage charitable donations, including those made to churches.
In Ontario, taxpayers who give more than $200 to a charity receive federal and provincial tax credits worth about 46 per cent of their donations.
A search is now on to find a successor for LeClair at Blessed Sacrament Parish. A new pastor will be named as soon as possible, the archbishop said.
LeClair is likely headed to the Southdown Institute in Aurora, north of Toronto, for treatment of his gambling problem. The institute was founded specifically to address the needs of clergy and others in religious orders who suffer from addictions.