Diocese proposes stringent money rules

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New accountability measures follow ‘questionable’ transactions at Blessed Sacrament Church

The Ottawa Citizen

3o October 2011

BY ANDREW DUFFY AND MEGHAN HURLEY 

The Archdiocese of Ottawa has introduced a plan to improve financial accountability at its parishes after this year’s scandal at Blessed Sacrament Church.

The diocese recently circulated a “draft finance protocol” to its more than 100 churches, asking for feedback.

The protocol, which imposes stringent new rules on the way in which church money is handled, will be discussed by parish finance officials at a meeting Nov. 14.

The new accountability measures are expected to be finalized by the end of the year.

Herve Dejordy, the former accountant at Blessed Sacrament who was fired in June by the diocese, called the changes long overdue.

“That’s what they should have done 20 years ago,” he told the Citizen.

According to Statistics Canada, about 350,000 Catholics live in the Ottawa area. Churches in the diocese raise more than $30 million a year.

Diocesan officials refused comment on their overhaul of financial practices, which comes as Ottawa police continue to investigate allegations that the former pastor of Blessed Sacrament misappropriated church money.

That investigation was triggered in mid-September when the diocese asked police to probe “questionable” transactions made by Rev. Joseph LeClair during the last five years in which he was pastor at the Glebe church.

Msgr. Kevin Beach has said the matter was referred to the police because the diocese did not have the expertise or investigative power to address issues raised by its review of Blessed Sacrament’s finances. That review included a lengthy audit by Deloitte and Touche LLP.

New financial practices and accountability measures have already been introduced at Blessed Sacrament.

The church pastor, for instance, is no longer able to issue a cheque without a second signature.

When he was pastor, LeClair could write cheques from church accounts, even to himself, without submitting receipts to substantiate his expenditures. He was the only church official with signing authority.

Weekly collection totals are now published regularly in the church bulletin. And changes have been made to the way in which couples pay for marriage preparation courses.

At Blessed Sacrament, couples used to be encouraged to pay for the $100 marriage preparation course with cash or a money order. “No cheques please,” the church used to advertise.

Blessed Sacrament would offer four to five marriage courses each year, often with 60 to 80 couples in attendance.

Today, however, Blessed Sacrament requests that marriage courses be paid by cheque or bank draft only. The bulletin now says: “No cash payments.”

In addition, collection money is handled more carefully: it is locked in a safe before being deposited in the bank. Collection proceeds used to be placed in a closet in LeClair’s unlocked rectory office.

The diocesan review of Blessed Sacrament raised a series of concerns about financial practices. Among them:

? ? a lack of controls on Sunday collections and “other cash revenues”

? ? misuse of the parish mass account, which is supposed to be reserved for small stipends paid by parishioners who want a mass said for a specific cause, often to remember a loved one

? ? the failure to set aside in a reserve account $50,000 donated for the sponsorship of two refugee families

The diocesan review found the church’s accounting to be deficient and revealed that the relatively wealthy parish had incurred a deficit in four of the past five years. At the end of May, it was in a net deficit position of $40,718.

Attendance and weekly collections at Blessed Sacrament have both declined since LeClair was forced to resign as pastor in late May.

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.

LeClair has repeatedly denied taking church money or using it to gamble. Through his lawyer, he has also insisted that diocesan officials and others at Blessed Sacrament bear some responsibility for the state of the parish’s books.

At a public meeting last month, several Blessed Sacrament parishioners echoed that notion, demanding to know why the diocese had not provided better oversight.

Beach conceded the diocese could have done more, saying: “We are prepared to take our lumps on the matter.”

He later told the meeting that “this situation and others are obliging us to review what we do.”

 

One Response to Diocese proposes stringent money rules

  1. Sylvia says:

    “No cheques please.”

    Indeed.

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