“Father Joe LeClair now working in Moncton diocese” & related article

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The Ottawa Citizen

ANDREW DUFFY, OTTAWA CITIZEN
More from Andrew Duffy, Ottawa Citizen

MEGHAN HURLEY, OTTAWA CITIZEN
More from Meghan Hurley, Ottawa Citizen

Published on: February 25, 2015Last Updated: February 25, 2015 9:48 PM EST

Months after being released from jail, Rev. Joseph LeClair is once again an active member of the clergy, ministering to parishioners in the Archdiocese of Moncton in New Brunswick.

The Citizen has learned that LeClair, 57, widely known as Father Joe, is now serving as an assistant priest at Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish, which is comprised of four churches in and around Moncton.

He has been in his new position since January.

LeClair, a native of Prince Edward Island, quietly resettled on the East Coast two months after being released from the Central East Region Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., where he served two-thirds of a year-long sentence for theft and fraud.

He remains subject to a probation order issued by Ontario Court Justice Jack Nadelle in March 2014.

In a brief interview Wednesday, LeClair said he was happy to be back in a priestly ministry. His new parishioners have been told about his past.”They know where I’ve been and what I’ve been through, yes,” he said.

LeClair settled in New Brunswick because he wanted to be near his parents, now in their 80s. “I’m close to them,” he said, “and I want to spend some time with them.”

LeClair declined to discuss his time in jail, saying: “I don’t have anything to offer on that.”

For years, LeClair was among the best-known Catholic priests in Ottawa. He made Blessed Sacrament Parish one of the most successful churches in the city, hosted a Sunday morning radio show on CFRA, and officiated at the weddings of, among others, former mayor Larry O’Brien and Senators defenceman Chris Phillips.

In 2009, he was recognized by the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre for his role in destigmatizing mental illness. LeClair spoke regularly in public about his personal battles with anxiety and depression.

A charismatic, energetic priest, LeClair earned an intensely loyal following at Blessed Sacrament in the Glebe. He was tireless in service to his parishioners and entertained many with his gifted storytelling.

All of which made the Citizen’s front-page story in April 2011 such a shock: The story described LeClair’s dangerous gambling habit and his heavy credit card debts. It also exposed Blessed Sacrament’s complete lack of financial controls, which gave the priest unfettered access to the church bank account and collections monies.

After the story appeared, LeClair admitted to a gambling problem, but adamantly denied taking church money. He denounced the Citizen from the pulpit and offered blessings on those who cancelled their subscriptions.

Nonetheless, almost three years after the first story appeared, LeClair admitted to five years of fraud and theft at Blessed Sacrament. Court heard that an overworked LeClair turned to alcohol in an attempt to ease his anxiety, but his heavy Scotch consumption only facilitated his gambling. He was eventually diagnosed as a pathological gambler.

LeClair stole in a variety of ways: 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.

LeClair’s lawyer asked for a conditional sentence without jail time, but Judge Nadelle said he couldn’t ignore the size of the fraud, its duration, or the priest’s attempts to lie his way out of trouble.

An audit of LeClair’s bank account found that $1.16 million moved through the priest’s personal 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, legitimate stipends, gifts or casino winnings.

Not all of the money LeClair stole from the church fed his gambling addiction: He used $5,700 in misappropriated funds, court heard, to finance a Caribbean vacation to Punta Cana.

Following the LeClair scandal, the Archdiocese of Ottawa imposed a raft of new financial rules to ensure church donations are properly collected, spent and accounted for by its officials. It also received a $379,000 insurance settlement for money that was misappropriated from Blessed Sacrament during the last five years of LeClair‘s leadership.

On the same day that LeClair pleaded guilty to stealing from Blessed Sacrament Parish in January 2014, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast announced that the diocese would assist in his return to the pulpit. The diocese has, since then, refused to make any comment about LeClair, or provide any information about his return to work.

LeClair is now one of three priests serving four churches along the Petitcodiac River: Holy Family Church in Moncton, Holy Ghost Church in Riverside-Albert, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Riverview, and St. Jude’s Church in Salisbury.

Officials from the Archdiocese of Moncton did not respond to a request for comment.

____________________________________

Father Joe LeClair returns to work in New Brunswick

CFRA

Father Joe LeClair has resurfaced in New Brunswick.

The 57-year-old convicted of theft and fraud at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Ottawa is now working as an assistant at Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish in the Moncton area.

LeClair served approximately two-thirds of a one-year sentence in prison after pleading guilty to stealing $130,000 from parishoners, fuelling a gambling problem.

He was granted early release for good behaviour.

10 Responses to “Father Joe LeClair now working in Moncton diocese” & related article

  1. Mike Mc says:

    Wow! He got away with the crime. Some may argue he “paid his time”…but that is just foolishness. He got away with that too. Good behavior? Duh,… what do you expect in prison.

    He’s back in the cushiony life-style of a priest- Golf, alcohol, vacations south, all he can eat, salary with perks….and so much more.

    Shame. A real shame.

    • Bob says:

      Fr. Joe perhaps is known for having lived that that life.

      But not sure I know of too many other parish priests who ever did. A diocesan priest won’t typically be found on a Forbes top earner’s list. I don’t think in the Diocese of Moncton he’ll be rolling in the green, plus his sentence includes returning $130,000 if I recall.

      As to “got away”, Fr. Joe was charged, convicted, and sent to a prison for a period of time comparable to another similar incident of that time frame (Royal Ottawa director Amanda Rousseau.) Not sure there are many convincing arguments that he “got away” with anything – it was a not atypical fraud sentence.

      • 1 abandoned sheep says:

        Bob, it also did not reflect the amount of money the Auditors said was unaccounted for. $130,000 was just a beginning.

        • Bob says:

          When the Crown takes a plea deal, it is as bound to it as the person they offer it to. That’s what he has to pay back, because that is what went on the record.

  2. jg says:

    Testing ….testing….
    Two previous posts sent me right back to “the enquiry” home page….
    Sylvia, FYI if this is a successful attempt….to be continued!
    Gremlins???

    • Sylvia says:

      I see no sign of the last posts you reference jg, just the one posted under “Egan: Ottawa’s Father Joe gets his second chance — and that’s a good thing”

      Are you trying to post and when you hit the “Submit” button you wind up at theinquiry.ca? Is that it?

      Try again under a different thread and see if you can get it through. Sometimes the software gets quirky and takes offence to a word in the comment, such as “for” – no rhyme nor reason to it, just trial and error to bypass the problem/gremlins.

      • jg says:

        No can do. That’s OK. Five tries is enough… 🙂
        There are more important things to consider….
        ..definite gremlins!!
        jg

  3. jg says:

    Sorry, last post gone into thin air….????
    Over and out!
    jg

  4. Mike Mc says:

    Bob….I said::::::::”He’s back in the cushiony life-style of a priest- Golf, alcohol, vacations south, all he can eat, salary with perks….and so much more.”

    What does Forbes etc have to do with it????

    Look, my son, the article says::: About $400,000 of that money could not be explained, court heard,”

    YES, he GOT AWAY with it. Are you blind???

    And yes, Bob…you say he “was charged, convicted, and sent to a prison for a period of time comparable to another similar incident of that time frame…”

    The issue is whether he should be defrocked”, not whether he spent time in prison. Send him into the “real” world and NOT back to the lifestyle of a priest….which I know from my own parish priest is a life with many perks. If people literally put their “two cents worth” in the basket at collection, we might see a different story.

    • Bob says:

      I guess I am blind. What is it he got away with? As far as I am aware, he’s a recorded felon, and has done a sentence regarded as fairly typical for the crime. In terms of the $400,000 figure, the Crown opted to do the plea deal as much as the defence did. No one forced them to.

      That the church kept him on should be seen as fairly unsurprising. The organization he is being allowed to return to is one whose central figure advocated that a man be forgiven not just seven times, but seven times seventy times. Its treatment of Fr. Joe isn’t especially atypical (something similar happened to a gambling embezzler in the Illinois diocese of Joliet a couple of years ago.)

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