The Ottawa Citizen
25 September 2011, 10:05 pm
OTTAWA — The Archdiocese of Ottawa will not withdraw its police complaint against former pastor Joseph LeClair, a senior official told angry Blessed Sacrament parishioners Sunday.
Vicar General Kevin Beach met with parishioners after the 11 a.m. mass Sunday to answer questions about the financial scandal that has rocked the Glebe church.
Speaker after speaker criticized both the Citizen for its coverage of the case and the diocese for its decision to refer the matter to the Ottawa police for investigation.
One parishioner accused the diocese of failing to show LeClair the kind of compassion offered Nova Scotia Bishop Raymond Lahey, who was allowed to stay at a Catholic residence in Ottawa while he awaited trial on charges of importing child pornography.
Others said LeClair had been “thrown under the bus” by the diocese despite revitalizing Blessed Sacrament and giving so thoroughly of himself as pastor.
Many wanted the matter resolved within the church family, rather than through the involvement of police.
LeClair suffered from a gambling addiction, an illness, and deserved to be embraced rather than “crucified,” one said.
Still another parishioner received a standing ovation when he suggested those assembled should urge the diocese to withdraw its police complaint.
But Msgr. Beach said the investigation is now in the hands of the Ottawa police, “who will take the investigation to its logical conclusion. … We are not going to withdraw the complaint.”
The matter was referred to the police, Beach said, because the diocese did not have the expertise or investigative power to address questions raised by the church’s review of Blessed Sacrament’s finances.
That review included a lengthy audit by Deloitte and Touche LLP.
Last week, in a letter to parishioners, Beach announced that the police have been asked to investigate “questionable” financial transactions made by LeClair during the last five years of his tenure at Blessed Sacrament.
The letter gave no indication as to how much money is at issue.
That question was not raised during Sunday’s three-hour information session held in the church hall. Beach refused to answer questions from the media after the event.
Many parishioners wanted to know Sunday why the diocese had provided so little oversight of church finances, and why the problem was only now being highlighted.
Beach conceded the diocese did not do enough. “This situation and others are obliging us to review what we do,” he said, noting the diocese will soon take measures to reinforce its oversight of more than 100 parishes.
In the case of Blessed Sacrament, Beach said, the diocese reviewed annual financial reports and raised concerns about the church’s operating deficit. Beach said he personally discussed the issue with LeClair, but conceded that he had “maybe not been as forceful as I should have been.”
Nonetheless, Beach said, LeClair had vowed to ensure that the church was in robust financial health by the time his tenure came to an end at Blessed Sacrament. LeClair wanted to leave the church with $100,000 in reserve.
Beach said it has not been decided what will happen when LeClair returns to the diocese after completing addiction counselling in Aurora, Ont.
It is expected that he will continue in the priesthood, but in what capacity will be decided in consultation with Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.
Many parishioners demanded to know why the diocese has not handed over the Deloitte and Touche audit to LeClair or his lawyer. But Beach said it is now up to the police to decide when to release that information.
A former member of the parish finance committee, Jim Ovens, told the gathering that he had offered to sit down with diocesan officials to review the audit and answer any questions it raised. But that offer was not acted upon, he said, even though it might have negated the need for a police probe.
Beach said the decision to complain to the police was not taken lightly by the diocese, which considered the file among its most important.
One parishioner responded: “I’ve put a significant amount of money in the envelopes every Sunday and I have no complaint.”
The six-month review of Blessed Sacrament by diocesan officials also raised concerns about the handling of Sunday collections, the misuse of church accounts, the failure to set aside refugee sponsorship money and deficient accounting practices.
The auditors reported that Blessed Sacrament incurred deficits in four of the past five years, and at the end of May was in a net deficit position of $40,718.
LeClair admitted in April that he had a gambling problem after the Citizen published a story that revealed the extent of his addiction and the ease with which he could access church funds.
An immensely popular and gifted priest, LeClair, 53, has repeatedly denied taking church money or using it to gamble. Through his lawyer, LeClair has also insisted that diocesan officials and others at Blessed Sacrament bear some responsibility for the state of the church’s finances.