Ottawa police Chief Vern White is perplexed that the Archdiocese of Ottawa has not yet instigated a police investigation of financial troubles at Blessed Sacrament Parish.
“Why isn’t the church bringing the police in?” White asked in an interview with the Citizen. “The question I would put out to the public would be: ‘When are we going to ask our church why they’re not bringing the police in on this?’ ”
A Citizen investigation revealed that Father Joseph LeClair, a renowned Ottawa priest who made the Glebe’s Blessed Sacrament Parish one of the most successful in the city, received more than $137,000 in cash advances on his credit card at Casino du Lac-Leamy during 2009 and 2010.
The story also revealed that LeClair racked up personal credit card bills of more than $490,000 and repaid Visa more than $424,000 during those years, according to documents obtained by the newspaper.
How he could afford to repay that much is not known, other than the fact that as a church pastor, LeClair earns a net salary of $24,400. He also receives money for officiating at weddings, funerals, baptisms and marriage preparation courses.
A review by the firm Deloitte and Touche LLP, took place in early March. Auditors raised questions about $250,000 worth of cheques issued to LeClair from church accounts between 2006 and 2010. Le-Clair had the authority during those years to issue a cheque, even to himself, without another signature.
White said the police can’t investigate financial troubles at the church until the archdiocese makes a complaint. He said he notified his fraud section of the allegations in case a complainant came forward, but an investigation has not been launched. White also wanted to ensure he has detectives in the unit not connected to the church since some of his officers attend the church.
“It’s impossible to do without the complaint because I don’t have the authority to go get the documents,” White said. “I don’t have the authority to start driving down into the organization.”
Although White says he has not seen any evidence, it is usual for organizations to contact police and advise them of an audit ahead of a possible investigation. In the case of Blessed Sacrament Church, the police were not contacted before the audit was launched.
“It’s just not the norm,” he said. “The norm is that the police get a complaint, they have a discussion with the complainant around the need for an audit. The complainant identifies they will have an audit done; the police hold a file open awaiting the results of the audit anticipating that there could be a criminal investigation.”
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast said Saturday that an audit at Blessed Sacrament Parish is ongoing and once it is complete, the archdiocese “will act promptly and prudently to take whatever further steps are deemed necessary.”
White said he had anticipated a complaint from the archdiocese after the Citizen’s investigation ran on Saturday, but figures church leaders are waiting until the audit is finished.