Ottawa Citizen Letters to the Editor
Who is the victim?
I feel that underlying this editorial is the unspoken suggestion that Father Joe LeClair should do time. We have to remember that our prisons are full, and that punishment should not be the goal of the law. It should be rehabilitation, which has begun. We have found out a lot about the man: he is narcissistic, has expensive tastes for a priest, has addictions to drink and gambling.
The “wisdom of Solomon” should be used in this case. Fr. Joe should be sentenced to possibly as much as 300 hours of community service. It might be broken down as 100 in the local jail, 100 in Lowertown with street people and 100 with other people who would like counselling.
It would be a shame to put such a brilliant man in prison for a “white collar crime.” Who is the victim? Blessed Sacrament had few financial safeguards in place at the church. Having more could have, I believe, prevented all of this.
Mike Newton, Ottawa
LeClair brought shame
I agree fully with the Citizen’s editorial views and also with letter writer Steve Flanagan concerning Father Joe LeClair.
He brought shame to the Catholic Church and stole a huge amount of money. It was a great amount of money which could have been useful to feed the poor, the homeless, the undernourished children and which should not have been spent by him, upon himself, feeding his gambling and alcoholism.
He displayed remorse and shed tears only after being caught and, I believe, because he did not want to go to jail. He should be sentenced as anybody else who had committed the same crime following the law of the country.
I go one step further. He should not be allowed by the Catholic Church to perform again as a parish priest.
Alice Swann, Ottawa
Conditional sentence best
At trial, Father Joe LeClair showed remorse at the tragedy he caused because of illegal behaviour, leading to criminal charges. He is an ideal candidate for restorative justice and should be given a conditional sentence.
The conditional sentence of imprisonment was introduced in 1996 as an alternate form of incarceration subject to specific criteria. It is not the same as probation. In 2000, the Supreme Court clarified its use. When the sentence is a term of imprisonment of less than two years, an offender deemed not to pose a danger to society is allowed to remain in the community, but with a more stringent set of conditions than offenders on parole. The offender must abide by a number of punitive conditions, such as house arrest and a strict curfew. If a condition is broken without a lawful excuse, the offender may well serve out the rest of the sentence in prison.
House arrest conditions can be designed to address the factors which led to the offence in the first place. Some conditional sentences force the offender to make reparations to the victim(s) while living under tight controls.
The public perception is that these sentences are lenient. Canada’s growing prison population, mounting evidence that jail time does not reduce the chances of re-offending and other factors gave way to an increasing use of conditional sentences.
The behaviour that Father LeClair indulged in can only be described as tragic and senseless. But the question must be asked; what would incarceration accomplish that a conditional sentence will not? Denunciation and imprisonment satisfy society’s desire to punish offenders and reinforce shared values by deterring crime. However, there is little evidence to support the general deterrence argument, that is, that the more severe the punishment, the greater the deterrent effect. Research simply does not support that proposition.
Emile Therien, Ottawa
Blessed with forgiveness
Most readers will likely find your editorial on both the legal and forgiveness issue in the Father Joe Le-Clair’s case fair and balanced – and in a strictly civil view it undoubtedly is. However, it is not exactly a Christian position to hold that the time for forgiveness is appropriate after Fr. LeClair has served whatever punishment Canada’s legal system metes out.
Far from suggesting that this means an escape from facing the sentences for crimes set by the courts, Christian forgiveness for those who have broken the law is not dependent on first serving the punishment. Whether criminals are still in jail or have “done the time for their crime,” forgiveness is offered and wherever it is received with penitence, it makes a spiritual difference. As in the New Testament scene where Jesus says to the penitent criminal “today, you will be in paradise with me,” the man was already blessed with forgiveness while still serving his sentence.
Of course, mercy is not formally on the agenda in the pursuit of justice through the courts. But, it’s good to remember that more than meting out just punishments as a deterrent to crime, our justice system includes considerations and actions to encourage criminals’ rehabilitation.
(Rev.) Peter Praamsma, Retired Chaplain, Morrisburg
Repentance, restitution and rehabilitation best
As a practicing Roman Catholic I am saddened by the revelations of Father Joe LeClair’s alcohol and gambling additions and his embezzlement of Blessed Sacrament parish funds. Out of every bad, hopefully, comes a good. New comprehensive and stringent rules concerning the handling of cash are now in place at every RC parish in Ottawa.
The parishioner whistleblower showed real courage in exposing the financial irregularities at Blessed Sacrament church. The Ottawa Citizen was correct in investigating those allegations. Archbishop Prendergast showed due diligence in reporting financial irregularities to the police. Father Joe has admitted his guilt. He continues to seek professional counselling for his addictions. He has received a fair trial and is willing to serve jail time – if the judge deems this necessary.
Let us not forget, repentance, restitution and rehabilitation are the foundation of Christian forgiveness.
Brendan Hennigan, Ottawa
Priest must pay penance
Re: Give Father Joe 18 months: prosecutor, Jan. 22.
Father Joe LeClair deceived his congregation by knowingly spending money received for various church activities and upkeep. This was not like grabbing a $10 bill out of the collection plate; the sum was well into the six-figure bracket.
Yes the man has a severe gambling problem and as a practising Roman Catholic this priest should be forgiven for his transgressions. But it’s a little like going to confession: one recounts his or her sins and then is given penance. In his case, I think the penance should be a little time behind bars to reflect upon his actions.