04 June 2011
By Meghan Hurley and Andrew Duffy
Three people who donated money to Blessed Sacrament Parish went to police in an attempt to spark an investigation into the use of church funds, the Citizen has learned.
But without a formal complaint from the archdiocese, Ottawa police say they can’t investigate the matter.
Chief Vern White has said that he does not have the authority to retrieve financial documents at the parish without the co-operation of the Archdiocese of Ottawa, which oversees the church.
The Citizen asked the director of Crown operations for the Ottawa region whether the police have correctly interpreted the law in this case. The Crown’s office offers legal advice to the Ottawa police.
But Hilary McCormack said she could not answer that question.
“As you may be aware, any legal advice provided by a lawyer is governed by solicitor-client privilege. Accordingly, I cannot comment on your inquiry,” McCormack said in an e-mail exchange.
In April, the Citizen revealed that Father Joseph LeClair, a renowned Ottawa priest who made 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.
LeClair also racked up personal credit card bills of more than $490,000 and repaid Visa more than $424,000 during those years.
LeClair, who left Blessed Sacrament in May, has repeatedly insisted that he did not use church funds to gamble. He used his own money and winnings, LeClair has said.
The Archdiocese of Ottawa has retained the firm Deloitte & Touche Canada to conduct an audit at Blessed Sacrament.
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast has pledged to inform parishioners about the results of that audit, but it’s not yet clear whether the audit report itself will be released.
Herve Dejordy, the longtime chair of Blessed Sacrament’s finance committee and the church’s principal accountant, said he does not expect the diocese to release the audit report.
“As a guy who has been doing this job for 15 years, I want the auditor’s report,” he said in a recent interview. “This is where the dirt is if there is any dirt.”
Dejordy said he doesn’t know what the audit will find. “I don’t know,” he said. “That’s why I want to see the report.”
The Citizen has learned that auditors have raised questions about $250,000 worth of cheques issued to LeClair from church accounts between 2006 and 2010. LeClair had the authority during those years to issue a cheque, even to himself, without another signature.
White said it’s common 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.
Still, White said he notified his fraud section of the allegations in case a complainant came forward, but an investigation has not been launched.
White also said he wants to ensure he has detectives in the unit not connected to the church since some of his officers attend Blessed Sacrament.
The Archdiocese of Ottawa announced Friday that Rev. Randal Hendriks will take over Blessed Sacrament Parish on July 1 and Rev. Francis Donnelly will join as a parttime pastor.