17 April 2011
By JAMIE LONG, Ottawa Sun
Last Updated: April 17, 2011 5:11pm
Fr. Joe Le Clair, seen here in the Blessed Sacrament Church in the Glebe in 2005, says depression contributed to his gambling problem but denied using church funds to feed his habit. (File Photo)
The irony of a well-known Ottawa priest confessing his sins to parishioners was not lost on the flock Sunday morning.
Father Joe LeClair says he is depressed and is a gambling addict as a result, part of an embarrassing admission to his congregation at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Parish.
This came just one day after LeClair’s costly habits went public in a Postmedia investigation revealing personal credit card bills of more than $490,000 over 2009 and 2010.
The investigation also found LeClair received more than $137,000 in cash advances on his credit card at Casino du Lac-Leamy over those years.
In response, he delivered a tearful apology at the 11 a.m. Palm Sunday mass to a standing-room only crowd of parishioners.
“What side effect of depression that I did not entirely realize was that I had been battling a gambling problem that had grown greater and faster in the last couple years,” LeClair said in his three-minute sermon.
“I simply went often enough to keep me in the game. The highs and lows of winning and losing fed off each other to the point where I realized I had a serious problem,” he added.
But while LeClair confessed to racking up lofty bills, he argued his own money funded the unhealthy habit, not church funds.
“I take personal responsibility for any decision I have made, which has caused embarrassment or has undermined your confidence in the financial stewardship of your hard-earned money,” said LeClair, whose confession was met with a standing ovation.
After Sunday’s service, parishioners continued to back their priest.
“We all look up to Fr. Joe. He is a leader and to hear that he has faults, as well, is very important for him to be up front and honest with this congregation,” said Paul Forte.
Some of those on hand were brought to tears when speaking about LeClair, while others defended the priest.
“I just think it’s a very sad time for him,” said Clare Moore. “He’s a good man, but he’s only human.”
“There are worse things that have gone on. It was his own money so I don’t think it’s anybody’s business,” added Clare’s husband Stephen.
LeClair also spoke Saturday with Terrence Prendergast, Ottawa’s Roman Catholic Archbishop regarding his gambling problem.
Prendergast has initiated an audit of the church by accounting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP.
LeClair said he will run the Easter service, but doesn’t know if he will continue beyond then as the face of the church.
Church investigates priest’s spending
By Jamie Long, Ottawa Sun
Last Updated: April 16, 2011 5:39pm
An Ottawa priest’s spending habits are triggering an internal church investigation.
The Archdiocese of Ottawa’s Roman Catholic churches is responding to reported gambling habits of a local priest, which reveals personal credit card bills of more than $490,000 during 2009 and 2010.
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast said in a statement Saturday he knew media were aware of indiscretions by Father Joseph LeClair, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in the Glebe, during an Post Media investigation in late 2010 and early 2011.
He then instructed the Vicar General to meet with LeClair to clear up what happened over the past few years.
“As a citizen, Fr. Joe LeClair is entitled to his privacy and to defend his reputation,” said Prendergast.
“As a priest and pastor, he is called to the public witness of a lifestyle consistent with Gospel values and Church teaching.”
Prendergast said he reached out to accounting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP a few weeks ago to conduct an audit of the parish.
According to reports, auditors have already raised questions about $250,000 worth of cheques issued to LeClair from church accounts between 2006 and 2010, when he could issue cheques to himself.
The audit is ongoing.
“Once the audit is completed, Diocesan Administration will act promptly and prudently to take whatever further steps are deemed necessary,” wrote Prendergast.