Father Joe Leclair jailed 1 year for stealing from his parish

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The Ottawa Sun

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By ,Ottawa Sun

Father Joe

Supporters of a “pathological gambler” priest who fleeced the flock he’d grown to 10,000 souls gasped Wednesday as a judge sentenced him to a year behind bars and probation instead of house arrest Wednesday.

There was a smattering of applause as an emotional Father Joseph LeClair, 57, left court after a private meeting with friends and former parishioners at Blessed Sacrament, heading with a police officer towards the cellblock.

“He is a priest forever,” said Ellen Vanneste, who has known LeClair since before his 1988 ordination and called him a kind-hearted and compassionate priest in a church that seems quicker to act on missing money than abused kids.

“(There) but for the grace of God go all of us.”

But Judge Jack Nadelle said that hundreds of letters of support should not save LeClair from jail.

That reputation is how he was able to bilk his Glebe parish out of an admitted $130,000 — although there was a total of $400,000 in unexplained deposits into his personal accounts from 2006 to 2010.

“The fact that the accused was in a position of trust is the most aggravating factor,” Nadelle said. “Every time he took some money, he was committing a criminal offence.

“Even when caught or knowing he would be caught, he lied to his parishioners.”

In April 2011, with news of the allegations set to break, LeClair told parishioners from the pulpit that he had a gambling problem but the money he wagered was his own.

In January, he pleaded guilty to fraud and theft. The Crown sought 18 months jail.

A psychiatrist reported that the “driven” priest became a compulsive gambler after drinking to cope with anxiety and depression caused by overwork spiralled out of control.

The charismatic priest in a parish with “very relaxed, if not non-existent” record keeping, stole from the collection plate, pocketed fees from marriage courses and padded expenses to repay cash advances at the Casino du Lac Leamy, often several in a day.

LeClair was in a “state of shock,” said a disappointed Matthew Webber after the sentencing.

The defence lawyer disputed the judge’s contention that the impact on his client has been minimal because he still has a job — unlike others who steal at work.

The city’s archibishop said in January that LeClair had courageously admitted to his addictions and the church would support the talented priest in his recovery and desire to return to his ministry of 25 years.

Being barred from his calling has been an “extreme hardship,” Webber said, but he predicted LcClair would be out on probation in about six months and ready to move on with his life.

“Father Joe will survive,” Webber said.

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Twitter: @ottawasun_megan

18 Responses to Father Joe Leclair jailed 1 year for stealing from his parish

  1. Sylvia says:

    “Even when caught or knowing he would be caught, he lied to his parishioners.”

    Yes, he lied. He lied and lied and lied. His lies evoked outrage and angst against the media who broke the story. Reporters were branded as liars.

    When Father LeClair apologised in court some weeks back there was no apology to those whom he had very publicly painted as liars.

    I am relieved that he is in jail. Relieved. I do not rejoice. There is never rejoicing when a Roman Catholic priest is convicted, and none when one is packed off to jail. I am simply relieved that he will indeed spend some time behind bars. I don’t think it’s long enough, but I accept the crumbs which fall under the table. I was concerned that he would get a conditional sentence.

    LeClair’s lawyer Matthew Webber speculates that his client will be out in about six months and ‘ready to move on with his life.’

    God help us all if that means returning to active ministry as a Roman Catholic priest. God help us all if the Archbishop deems Father Joe fit to function as a priest.

    I pray that Father Joe will have sufficient time in jail to reflect on the damage he has done – not from the perspective of the embarrassment and humiliation he has suffered, but on the damage his actions and lies have wrought on the faith of so many.

    • Suzanne Herrick-Lee says:

      Sylvia, you have articulated my feelings to the n’th degree, no jubilation, just justice, even if it is crumb justice!!!

  2. Larry Green says:

    How long in jail for Fr. Joe would be enough Sylvia for his stealing and lies?
    Is it something you could ever forgive him for? Do you understand that every single member of the clergy within the Catholic Church is a human being? Do you understand that every single member ( clerical and laity) of the Church that you proclaim to be faithful to are subject to the same temptations and failings of every single human being on this planet?
    Do you really think you understand the concept of forgiveness in the same way the rest of us do?
    Have you ever at any time in your life asked for mercy (even if you did not know enough to articulate it that way?) Have you ever at any time in your life received mercy (even if you did not know enough to articulate it that way?)
    If justice is no cause for jubilation then what is the impetus that propels sylvias site?

    I personally do not know Fr. Joe at all and whether he is a priest or not , he is my brother and yours and through the power of Jesus Christ ( The one that we receive in the Eucharist on Sunday) I forgive him for what he has done wrong to my brothers and sisters in humanity. I do this very easily and very lovingly and without malice to anyone.

    • Bob says:

      This does not stand in contradiction to the administration of temporal justice. It is entirely possible for a parishioner to be long over the hurt and shock of what Fr. Joe did, and yet still believe in the adage “justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done.”

      Do those clamouring for Fr. Joe to receive no punishment also lobby for Amanda Rousseau (the woman charged with fraud at the Royal Ottawa Hospital over a much smaller amount and jailed for much longer), or are their desires for an exceptionally liberal sentence solely for Father Joe? In God’s eyes, she stands before the Mercy Seat with the same grace, and the same need for salvation – should all fraudsters be set free? How about bank robbers?

      I long ago forgave Fr. Joe when it became apparent that things weren’t what we thought they were. I know this is probably a confusing, trying time for him – he’s not a “roughing it” kind of guy and I genuinely worry about him in the Ottawa Carleton detention centre’s unpleasant environment.

      But I can’t ask the justice system, whose image is Lady Justice blindfolded with scales, to substitute my compassion, my forgiveness, for what it has to administer in order to direct a well ordered society in which people are disincentivized from theft and abuse of office. We have these laws for a reason, and Fr. Joe’s breach of these laws was one of the more serious ones possible for a person in a position of authority.

      So while I wish him well, and know that this is now the beginning of his journey back from the lowest point of his life, I cannot ask the courts to treat him any differently; he once played a great and important part of my life, and I am grateful for it. Hopefully he can do that for people again, some day.

    • 1 abandoned sheep says:

      Larry- since you live in the Pembroke Diocese, how does this item become part of your territory? You have more than enough to be concerned about in your own Diocese- hardly a beacon of justice, or correctness !

    • Sylvia says:

      I think Larry that you erroneously assume that because I think one year is not enough I do not and can not forgive. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

      You ask me: “Do you really think you understand the concept of forgiveness in the same way the rest of us do?”

      I’m not sure who “the rest of us” is, but admit I am having trouble understanding your concept of forgiveness. If, as you suggest, forgiveness negates punishment, then I take it that we should all be one big happy forgiving family, – no jails, no police, no judges , no lawyers. Somehow in this strange new world ‘forgiveness’ would wipe the slate clean – those who have offended others would be instantly forgiven by all and in being forgiven these offenders would not require incarceration. In fact, there would be no need to investigate possible wrong-doing in the first place because everyone would know that everyone is only human and more than capable of making mistakes, and with ‘forgiveness’ at hand, all major and minor wrongs would be instantly righted.

      I have trouble with that Larry.

      Re justice being no cause for jubilation. You imply that jubilation should accompany the rendering of justice. I disagree. I have never experienced jubilation when a priest is convicted, not have I seen jubilation in a courtroom. There may be times where that happens, but I personally have neither experienced nor witnessed it. I pray that I will never rejoice when a Roman Catholic priest is convicted and sent off to jail. I do not rejoice in his afflictions. I pray for him.

      To answer your initial question, re how much time do I think would be enough? I’d settle for the 18 months and two years probation requested by the Crown.

      Finally, Larry, a reminder for us all:

      Quotes from Saint Alphonsus Liguori on the priesthood and the sin of scandal

  3. Oakie Dokie says:

    Amen………Larry Green, my comment says the same thing but with different words.

  4. Leona says:

    I always hear chastisement from those who question other ‘a ability to forgive. ‘I do this very easily and lovingly and without malice to anyone’.

    What is forgiveness? Is it possible to err in forgiving too quickly? I believe that our fear at examining the truly dark side of human nature may let us jump too quickly to ‘forgiveness’.
    From what I’ve read here, it does not appear that Fr. Leclair is truly penitent. There are too many hurt feelings that haven’t been addressed, and clearly much damage has been done. A true Restorative Justice program would be a starting point towards a long healing process.
    The malice towards Sylvia and her readers for not forgiving quickly enough might be a starting point.

  5. Larry Green says:

    My comment above was directed specifically toward Sylvia ( one Christian to another). Has Sylvia and Sylvia’s ‘readers’ become one entity (one mind, one ideology?) An ideology based on the principle that vengeance is deemed a primary source for human growth. Where the mere mention of the word forgiveness is perceived as a real threat to the ‘new entity.’
    I have chastised no one. I have nowhere suggested that Fr. Joe should not be punished. We do a great deal of harm to ourselves though if we assume that the call to restorative justice involves throwing stones or building places to breed attitudes that reject love and forgiveness to be replaced with frenzies of vengeance and hate.
    There is a Fr. Joe, a fraudster, a stealer, a liar, a sinner in each one of us. It is from there that we should distribute punishment for the sins of others.
    I haven’t said anything malicious , and the fact that you perceive it to be words of ‘malice’ and ‘chastisement’ should be an alarm for you to beware.

  6. B says:

    Larry, are you unaware that forgiveness does NOT in any way preclude punishment? Are you aware that people who have actually been betrayed may take years, decades even, to come to full forgiveness–that is just the speed at which they are able to process the damage done to them?

    Perhaps you might work on forgiving those to whom forgiveness does not flow “easily and lovingly” and instantly.

    • 1 abandoned sheep says:

      B, well said. You should know Larry is more of a cyber bully, than a Theologian.

      • BC says:

        A bully… and a hypocrite;
        Read all about Easy ‘lovin Larry here:
        http://www.theinquiry.ca/wordpress/2010/09/24/the-review/

        Green trolled that day;
        September 25, 2010 at 9:31 pm
        I followd (tracked) Razinger’s aticvity as it was published within the church website long before he became pope.I knew this person was bad news not only for the catholic church but for the world.
        FOR AS LONG AS THIS DEAMON IS LEADER OF MY CHURCH I AM NOT CATHOLIC>

        Green, is all over the road on clerical abuse. And he’s abusing your trust if you believe that he’s a forgiving; loving man.

  7. JG says:

    Poor Larry Green, again!…
    Every once in a while he returns wrapped in the cloak of “Forgiveness” and it inevitably doesn’t even concern him except that the kind of attention he receives seems to help him numb his ailing conscience…
    Be honest, Larry, what is troubling you so that you need to pry yourself up by putting others down in what you would have us believe is your own “christian” way…?
    Besides, you shouldn’t get near a keyboard after the midnight hour, time of your original “lecture”(and other previous “glory” moments!), and everyone should make note of this… to not waste so much energy feeding Larry’s midnight delusions…and guilt!
    I don’t think he is a hypocrite. I think he is lonely, hurting and only feeds on his controversies.
    He wants to share his pain!…
    Good job but …sincerely wish you get well soon Larry!…
    jg

  8. Leona says:

    Ah yes, JG. I hadn’t been paying attention to the time as I am on vacation in Europe. Now it all makes sense.

  9. Jim Chris says:

    If it hadn’t been for Black Jack Joe
    I’d been an atheist a long time ago
    Where did you come from, where did you go?
    Where did you come from, Black Jack Joe?

    His poor sheep they had a lotta’ dough
    So he could party with cash to blow
    Where did you come from, where will you go?
    Where did you come from, Black Jack Joe?

    Now Joe is reaping the seeds he didda’ sow
    Eating jailhouse mash down on stealer’s row
    Where did you come from, when can you go?
    Where did you come from, Black Jack Joe?

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