Father Joe charged with impaired driving

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Ottawa Sun

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Father Joe pleads guilty to stealing from church

Joseph LeClair, former priest of Blessed Sacrament church in the Glebe, is photographed leaving the Ottawa courthouse on Monday Jan. 20, 2014. LeClair pleaded guilty after he exploited lax bookkeeping to pilfer $130,000 in church funds to fund his gambling debts, according to an agreed statement of facts read out in court. Darren Brown/Ottawa Sun/QMI Agency

Rev. Joseph LeClair will be back before a criminal court judge next week to face impaired driving charges recently issued by the Ontario Provincial Police.

LeClair, 58, the former pastor of Ottawa’s Blessed Sacrament Parish who was jailed in March 2014 for stealing from church coffers, has been in Guelph for the past year. He had been thriving there as associate pastor of Saint Joseph Catholic Church, and had attracted a large and enthusiastic following.

According to an OPP news release, LeClair was pulled over on Highway 6 in Guelph during an evening RIDE program on the Victoria Day long weekend. Officers observed signs that he had been drinking and took him to a local OPP operations centre for further testing.

He was subsequently charged with impaired driving and having an open container of liquor in his car. LeClair was driving the same 2008 Volkswagen Eos convertible that he used in Ottawa.

LeClair is scheduled to make his first appearance on the charges next Tuesday in a Guelph courtroom.

The Citizen contacted Saint Joseph Church and was told that LeClair will be away for the next two weeks.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Ottawa, Deacon Gilles Ouellette, said church officials are aware of the charges, but will not comment on them since the matters remain before the court.

“We will work with Father LeClair to determine the most appropriate way to support him in his journey of recovery,” Ouellette said.

Although assigned to work in Guelph, LeClair remains an official member of the Archdiocese of Ottawa.

LeClair has struggled for years to overcome addictions that took root while he was at Blessed Sacrament.

During his January 2014 sentencing hearing in Ottawa, LeClair’s then-defence lawyer, Matthew Webber, told court that the priest suffered from mounting anxiety due to his workload at the booming parish. That led to heavier drinking — it eventually reached six or eight scotches a night, Webber said, which in turn fuelled his gambling binges at Casino du Lac-Leamy.

In March 2014, LeClair was sentenced to one year in jail and probation. He was released in November of that year and assigned to a Moncton parish but suffered a relapse and was later moved to Guelph.

For years, LeClair was among the best-known priests in Ottawa. A charismatic figure, he made Blessed Sacrament Parish one of the most successful in the city, hosted a Sunday morning radio show, and officiated at many high-profile weddings.

After the Citizen wrote a story that explored his gambling, his debts and his church’s poor financial controls, LeClair denied taking parishioners’ money and denounced the newspaper. Three years later, LeClair admitted to an elaborate course of fraud and theft: He wrote cheques to himself from church accounts, overcharged for his personal expenses, dipped his hand into Sunday collections, and redirected fees for marriage preparation courses to his own account.

An audit revealed that $1.16 million moved through LeClair’s personal bank account between January 2006 and December 2010. About $400,000 of that money could not be explained, court heard, and could not be tied to salary, stipends, gifts or casino winnings.

Following the scandal, the Archdiocese of Ottawa imposed a raft of new financial controls on its churches.

14 Responses to Father Joe charged with impaired driving

  1. Sylvia says:

    A relapse in Moncton? That explains the short stay at Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish, in the Moncton New Brunswick area.

    And then Bishop Doug Crosby (Hamilton Diocese) took him in and allowed him to serve as assistant at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, Guelph.

    And now this…

    More later

  2. bob says:

    Boy this is tough. He is so good with people, that it does seem like a natural calling; but he seems to be way too fragile for the challenging life of being a priest. It just breaks my heart.

    • BC says:

      So good with people?
      Please…
      People who are so good with other people don`t defraud the ying yang outta them. People who are so good with other people don`t get charged with DUI and/or having an open container.

      Get real: Father Leclair is a convicted con man. He’s not rehabilitated. The survey says that if he keeps hanging out with his ol’ clerical drinkin’ and gambling’ buddies, that he’ll do it again.

      • Sylvia says:

        Go easy on those who have been deceived by a priest BC. It’s extremely difficult for them.

      • bob says:

        yeah, I’m one of the defrauded. Actually literally – we were called about one of the potential destinations during the accounting forensics for the missing money, and it was actually something I had paid for. My eyes are open.

        And he’s certainly not the only person I know who ended up in jail. Drugs and booze is probably what gets half the people in there, in some way. Addiction is a very hard disease to beat.

        But knowing that doesn’t take away my sadness. The potential he had was real. I really believed in second chances.

        • BC says:

          Fair enough!
          You are correct to mention that drugs, illicit and/or licit are an element in roughly 70% of criminal infractions in Canada. If we didn’t believe in 2nd chances, there would be no point in incarcerating anyone, eh? But Father Leclair has not been rehabilitated as a criminal and his sobriety is still an issue. It’s impossible to rehab anyone at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. It’s overcrowded, understaffed and ill equipped to assist cases like Father Leclair. It was reasonably foreseeable that he would have problems upon his release.

          Moving him around; which has been one of the Church’s most critical mistake in the whole clerical abuse debacle was not a solution for Father Leclair.
          The rehabilitation of Father Leclair is a mid to long term endeavour. If he is indeed found guilty of these latest charges Father Leclair’s entourage is gonna have to accept that he is a danger to himself and others.
          Father Leclair used his addictions to mitigate his sentencing already; and the system was understanding with him. That was Christianity’s contribution to our legal system: compassion was designed into our sentencing system. The faithfull should reconsider their expectations of Father Leclair. And his employer should quit exploiting his celebrity and actually do what it preaches about.

      • Irene Symons says:

        Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Also remember that this is the Year of Mercy!!

        • PJ says:

          And here is a fine example of a blind sheep quoting the bible to defend a collar. And who declared this a year of mercy?? Frankie?? Another hot air balloon.

        • BC says:

          Your Church has it’s own legal system; it’s own law schools; it’s own tribunals; it’s own jurists. And there’s even a jail within the walls of Vatican City. Are you sayin’ that the Pope is without sin? What about the Popes before him?? Like, why did they apologize for the clerical abuse cover-up if they are without sin???

  3. Cate says:

    I have been impressed by the lack of secrecy surrounding Father Joe’s troubles but more than a little disturbed by the tone of his openness. It all appeared a touch disingenuous and more than a little like the church trotting out one of it’s success stories. Addiction is a messy business and, based on Joe’s first relapse so early in his recovery and this latest incident, is one that has a tight grip on him. Charisma is often a cover up for deeply rooted difficulties and it appears whatever ‘treatment’ he has received has not yet taken hold. I hope and pray that church authorities will get him out of parish life and into proper treatment. Sadly, based on accounts at the parish this weekend, he will not be removed but will receive ‘part time treatment’. Whomever is in charge of Joe’s case clearly has no idea what they are doing, for the church and more importantly for Joe, the person, not the priest. Sad state of affairs, to say the least.

    • bob says:

      This is exactly my concern. As someone who still considers himself a friend, even after all that happened at Blessed Sacrament, most people seem singularly focused on his charismatic gifts. And I’d stop to ask, what about the man himself?
      Yes those in the pews may feel they get something out of his return to the altar, but it has clearly led him right back to where he started. Never mind how they feel, what about him? I don’t want the man who was once my friend destroyed any further.

  4. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Irene – how about a little mercy from the church toward those who have been defrauded, eh? Mike.

    • PJ says:

      Mike, Irene won’t respond because she’s a coward. She spouts off trash and then lurks in the background. She’s no better than those collars that defend the perverts.

  5. Just another victim says:

    When it comes to addiction the only one that can be in charge of it is the person with the addiction. Until they come to the reality that their life is in their own hands no much is going to change. As the saying goes, nothing changes if nothing changes. It is goes for the church as well. They are doing him no favours by coddling him, by doing so they are just enabling his behaviour. As victims have come to know the church will do all it can to protect their beloved priests! They called the police, he was charged and convicted, went to jail, then they accepted him back with open arms. He gets into trouble again once again welcome him back.

    Yet as Bob says what about the parishioners who were defrauded, where is the mercy for them. Oh yah they are just suppose to accept what they are told and follow along like good little sheep, right to the slaughter.

    JAV

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