The Ottawa Citizen
ANDREW DUFFY, OTTAWA CITIZEN
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MEGHAN HURLEY, OTTAWA CITIZEN
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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
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.