The Ottawa Citizen
Photograph by: Mike Carroccetto , The Ottawa Citizen
At the centre of the Lord’s Prayer is the concept of forgiveness. It is one of the most appealing and powerful tenets of Christianity: The effort to forgive those who have wronged us, no matter the crime, raises us all up.
Never more is that example needed than today. We live in unforgiving times. In some places, people are executed by lethal injection or by a single bullet to the back of the head. People strap explosives to their bodies and exact revenge upon the innocent.
Punishment and retribution seem more the order of the day.
What’s the right path to take? If we shrug at crimes, society loses its ability to designate certain behaviours as unacceptable. But if all we do is punish, and mete out forgiveness only to those we deem deserving, the quality of our mercy is strained.
The case of Father Joe LeClair makes us contemplate this conundrum. Many letter-writers to the Citizen have written of their own struggles with the question of how to feel about this case, or of their conviction that he’s either deserving of forgiveness, or not.
The priest, who was supposed to be a faithful shepherd for his flock, took large sums of money from his church. He gave in to his own impulses and gambled some of that money away. These are not insignificant transgressions; they represent a breach of trust.
And yet, many of the very people he has wronged are calling out for leniency. They know what he has done to them, but they also know what he has done for them. LeClair has a unique ability to minister to his charges. He comforts them and he guides them. He is also able to bring new people into his flock and offer them the spiritual guidance they have been seeking. We know this through the testimony of the many people who have stood up for him, even though the evidence of his wrongdoing has been now made public.
This newspaper and this city are not called upon to act as Solomon. It is not our task to determine what LeClair’s fate should be, based on how we feel about him as a human being and as a member of his community. What determines his fate is the law of Canada. He is accountable for his actions, as anyone is. We must let the process work. We have a system of justice that is supposed to be blind when an individual stands before it.
He has admitted guilt to some serious crimes. Whatever the punishment, once LeClair has completed it, then will be the time for forgiveness for a flawed man. In the end, whether the community accepts any convicted criminal back into society and helps him rebuild his life has little to do with whether that individual deserves it. Mercy is not a virtue that depends on the worthiness of the recipient; to finish the Shakespearean lesson, it droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven, upon all who are there to receive it. All who break the law are accountable to the justice system, and all who pay their debts to society are welcome to rejoin it and try to be good citizens.