“Father Joseph LeClair sentenced to a year in jail” & VIDEO

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A popular Ottawa priest who stole $130,000 from his church has been sentenced to a year in jail for his crimes.

Father Joe LeClair, a diagnosed pathological gambler, pleaded guilty to defrauding Ottawa’s Blessed Sacrament Church of the money over the course of five years.
Father Joe Leclair

Father Joseph LeClair was sentenced to a year in jail and a year’s probation for fraud on Wednesday morning. (CBC)

He was sentenced to one year in jail and one year probation in an Ottawa courtroom on Wednesday morning, after which he and around 50 supporters got together in a larger courtroom for a private meeting.

“He’s visibly tired, he’s visibly upset, he’s shaken, he’s a broken man right now,” said Joanne Licari, who was in that meeting.

“But he still mustered up the courage to thank us, to tell us that our prayers made all the difference, that our support made all the difference and he wouldn’t have gotten through this without us.”

Ellen Vanneste said she supports LeClair but isn’t surprised at the sentencing.

“Had he not gone to jail, what would the lesson be? I can take money from my mom’s purse, my dad’s wallet and it’s OK because a priest did it?” she said.

“You know, justice had to be served. I’m sorry for him. I’ll pray for him every day, I’ll go to masses and do rosaries for him and he’ll make it,” she said.
Could get parole in the summer

Crown prosecutor Peter Napier had argued at LeClair’s sentencing hearing in January that the priest should spend 18 months in jail for his breach of trust.

But defence lawyer Matthew Webber argued LeClair was addicted to work, which fuelled heavy drinking that enabled his gambling. LeClair should serve his sentence in the community rather than jail, Webber told the court.

Ontario Court Judge Jack Nadelle said he agreed that LeClair’s popularity and workload led to his issues, but that breach of trust and the amount of money played into his decision of jail time.

On Wednesday, Webber said LeClair has an excellent chance of rehabilitation and could be eligible for parole in about six months.

He said he will not appeal the sentence.
Attendance down

LeClair was the kind of leader who drew people in, but his criminal confession has divided parishioners, said Thea Boyd. She used to travel from Blossom Park in south Ottawa to the Glebe for church — specifically because of LeClair.

“He just drew you in, and right away your faith was restored. He just had that charisma about him,” she said.

“We still feel that. We could still repeat some of his homilies that he did. He would make you cry and then he would make you laugh.”

Now that he’s gone, Boyd said that she and other parishioners have been looking for another place to worship.

“We’ve called it church surfing. Looking for another church, looking for another priest that was as good as Father Joe,” she said.

Father Galen Bank, who came to Blessed Sacrament a year and a half ago, said, “There’s no question” that attendance has fallen at the church since a fraud investigation was launched in 2011. But Bank said the church’s finances and number of parishioners has been stable since he arrived.

The Archdiocese of Ottawa has promised to work with LeClair in his recovery. In a statement issued after his guilty plea, Archbishop of Ottawa Terrence Prendergast said that LeClair was “courageous” to admit his addiction.

“Aware of his many talents and his 25 years of effective pastoral ministry, we will work with Father LeClair in his desire to return to the exercise of his priestly ministry,” the statement said.

The archdiocese said Wednesday it would have no comment on the sentencing, referring the media back to that January statement.

4 Responses to “Father Joseph LeClair sentenced to a year in jail” & VIDEO

  1. Gerry Kachmarski says:

    Would Father LeClair’s understanding parishioners have been so forgiving if he had admitted to spending $130,000 on prostitutes rather thab gambling? How about on underage prostitutes (i.e. abused kids)? When is it okay for a Catholic priest to bilk his congregation of $130,000? Obviously, some of the faithful think that, in this case at least, it’s no big deal. They think that the civil authorities have been too harsh. What does that say about them, the faithful, that their standards are somehow lower? Are they compassionate people, who refuse to cast the first stone, or hypocritical enablers and apologists? Does the problem with the Catholic Church go beyond those priests who break not only the moral code but the criminal code, and their superiors who are none too keen to expose the transgressions to the light of day? Or does the problem reach into the ranks of the so-called faithful who, by their laxity and indifference, let it happen, or excuse it when it comes to light? My past experience in the Church tells me that the latter is the case.

    • Bob says:

      Nobody “let it happen.” Honestly, do people think we’d really just let this go? Yeah, its OK if he steals some stuff.

      In a word, no. If I could go back in time and stop him before he went off the rails, I’d love to do that. But time’s arrow moves in only one direction.

      • PJ says:

        I think “the latter” refers to excusing it, not in letting it happen. The gist of what Gerry wrote is his disgust in how many in that church are blindly siding with the accused.

        • Bob says:

          You mean the “convicted.”

          And no, no one is “siding” with him, in the sense of thinking he’s innocent. He confessed, he was convicted.

          Some people continue to hold a compassionate viewpoint towards him – a belief that a redeemed life for him is possible. I hold that view – after all, I have a Savior who taught me that view…. seventy times seven times.

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