The Ottawa Sun
First posted: | Updated:
Forgive me judge, for I have sinned, a fraudster priest told a court Wednesday.
Joseph LeClair — the charismatic former Blessed Sacrament church priest who pleaded guilty to a $130,000 fraud earlier this week — gave a sweeping apology to a courtroom packed with his supporters as he asked to be spared jail.
“I’d like to express how deeply remorseful I am,” said LeClair, leaning forward to steady himself on his defence lawyer’s table.
He spoke, with difficulty, through tears.
“I have embarrassed and humiliated the priesthood and the church,” LeClair said.
“I have breached the trust of the very parish that I have cared for and continue to care about so much.”
He was right about that.
Between 2006 and 2011 he had helped himself to church money anywhere he could find it. Even loose change in the collection plate found its way into LeClair’s bank accounts.
LeClair was a gambler of the pathological persuasion, mired, as a psychiatrist wrote, “in a cycle of chasing wins and compensating for losses through the use of fallacious logic and faulty thought processes.”
Though Dr. Julian Gojer’s report contained good news — “LeClair does not have any antisocial traits, nor is he a psychopath” — Gojer said the priest’s personality “is fraught with aspects of self-doubt and his self-worth appears to be dependent on the reinforcement he has received from external sources, like his parishioners.”
Gojer also found that psychiatric tests suggested LeClair thinks he’s “special and deserving of the praise and admiration of others.”
Indeed, the first day of the sentencing hearing was taken up by three parishioners who gushed about their fallen priest.
But Crown prosecutor Peter Napier said LeClair was only able to gorge himself on the bread of deceit because he had earned the trust and admiration of the flock he fleeced.
“That’s what defines this case,” said Napier. “The trust that Father LeClair took advantage of.”
Though the Crown would like to see LeClair locked up for 18 months, defence lawyer Matthew Webber held out hope for a conditional sentence the priest could serve in the community, given the gambling and alcohol abuse diagnoses that Webber argued underpinned the fraud.
LeClair tried to provide reassurance.
“I’ve come a long way in understanding my addictions and my crimes,” LeClair told the court. “I am profoundly sorry.”
The judge will sentence him on March 19.
Father Joe’s apology
I’d like to express how deeply remorseful I am for all that has transpired.
I would like to assure Your Honour that I now fully appreciate the extreme gravity of my actions.
I have embarrassed and humiliated the the priesthood and the church.
I have breached the trust of the very parish that I have cared for and continue to care about so much.
As a result of my actions, I have jeopardized my vocation. A vocation that truly, I believe to be my calling.
Not only did I hurt my parish and the church but I have dishonoured the priesthood at large.
And for this I’m painfully ashamed, and I pray that the church will forgive me.
While the realization was not immediate, I now better understand that my addictions to alcohol and gambling contributed to my thoughtless and irrational behaviour.
At the time, I must confess, I did not ever really turn my mind to the gravity of my conduct.
As I reflect upon these times I regard this weakness on my part as inexcusable. I was literally unable to control myself.
I’ve come a long way in understanding my addictions and my crimes and I fully intend on continuing with my treatment as soon as I am able.
I fully realize that the discipline necessary to overcome addiction is an ever-mindful and lifelong commitment. And I am committed to waging this fight for the rest of my life. May God grant me the grace to persevere.
I pray, Your Honour, that you would feel it appropriate to impose a conditional sentence where I might continue to address my problems.
However I fully accept responsibility for the wrongs I’ve committed and accept whatever consequences should befall me.
Again, I apologize to all, especially my parishioners that are here today, for the pain I have caused. It was always my hope and desire that my involvement in the lives of others would lessen or diminish hardship, not cause it.
I am profoundly sorry for what I have done. I ask God to forgive me and to judge me as I pray that Your Honour will interpret the law of the land.