Letters to the Editor re Father Joe LeClair

Share Button

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

Re: The quality of mercy, Jan. 24.

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

 Ottawa Citizen

January 23, 2014

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.

Steve Flanagan,

Ottawa

9 Responses to Letters to the Editor re Father Joe LeClair

  1. Bob says:

    Some of our parishioners claim there were no victims. I know for a fact that this is not so.

    Around the time this all shook out, the parish was sponsoring a refugee family from Iraq. This affair caused a lot of complications in making that happen, though the big donor behind it was very gracious about moving the funding to the archdiocese.

    Then there was the lack of an orderly transition to a new pastor. The situation that followed took the parish down to half its size, which definitely impacted funding of the parish, never mind the morale of the remaining volunteers. We were all devastated just like the people in the pews, all while keeping up a brave face for the parishioners we served.

    There were other things, which I can’t comment on – but the idea that this was all victimless is preposterous.

    I have a lot of compassion for Fr. Joe. I definitely do not take a throw the book at him attitude even now, and I have forgiven him in Christian charity. But let’s toss out any notion this was victimless. It was not.

    • Sylvia says:

      You are right Rob. There are many victims, not only parishioners or former parishioners of Blessed Sacrament, but Catholics throughout the city and beyond.

      I have been thinking of this a lot since I sat in the courtroom last week. Yes, the gambling and drinking and stealing are a big problem, but I find that what bothers me more than anything is the lying to parishioners. Father Joe made those who broke the story in the Citizen the target of vilification. And he allowed that. And he praised those who cancelled their subscriptions, and those railed against the Citizen and reporters who, according to him, were outright lying.

      And, equally troublesome, at least for me, is the fact that a relatively-speaking small group of very vocal supporters find no problem with this. I am now realizing that it is indeed a small group, but initially I did not.

      St. Alphonsus Ligouri, a Doctor of the Church, had much to say about priests who give scandal. Here are a few quotes – food for thought for all who wish to think that no harm has been done by this particular clerical scandal:

      (1) Priests are called by St. Gregory Patres Christianorum The Fathers of Christians. Thus also are they called by St. John Chrysostom, who says that a priest as the representative of God is bound to take care of all men, because he is the Father of the whole world. As a parent, then, sins doubly when he gives bad example to his children, so a priest is also guilty of a double sin when he gives bad example to seculars, says Peter de Blois. St. Jerome made the same remark in a letter to a certain bishop: ” Whatever you do, all will think they may also do.” When they sin at the sight of the bad example of a priest, seculars, as Cesarius has observed, say, ” Do ot also priests do such things ?” St. Augustine puts the following words into the mouth of a secular: “Why
      do you reproach me ? are not priests doing the same? and you wish to force me not to do so ?” St. Gregory says that when, instead of edifying the people, a priest gives scandal, he renders sin, in a certain manner, honorable rather than an object of horror.

      (2) At present, says the holy Church, I am not persecuted by the pagans, for the tyrants have ceased, nor by the heretics, because there are no new heresies; but I am persecuted by the ecclesiastic, who by his scandals robs me of so many souls. ” I think,” says St. Gregory, “that no one injures the interests of God as the priests do whom he has himself charged with the duty of drawing souls from vice, and who by their bad example precipitate them into it.”

      (3) St. John Chrysostom says, ” If priests sin,a ll the people are led to sin. Hence every one must render an account of his own sins; but the priests are also responsible for
      the sins of others.”

      • E. Ewing says:

        see below

      • E. Ewing says:

        For people to say there are no victims is not true. Some victims cannot speak for themselves such as my friend who was told she had cancer and died three months later. Father Joe did not visit her while she was dying even though I contacted the church office.
        She was a faithful regular parishioner at Blessed Sacrament.
        I drove her to her lawyer, her doctor, her bank, her grocery store all the time she was dying. I could say more as my opinion about Father Joe but I will let the facts speak for themselves.

  2. Emily says:

    I think at the time the story broke Father Joe had not fully understood how far gone his situation had become. If you do some research into addiction and gambling you may realize how this is true. People gamble away their life savings then their spouses life savings then their children’s, before receiving treatment and before fully comprehending how sick they are. It’s easy for those without addiction problems to sit back and say I would not do that, but truly if you had depression, addiction to alcohol, addiction to gambling and easy access to money you would have done the same thing. That is the disease. It is not rational. Learn about it before you judge. I’m hoping that is what the judge does.

    • 1 abandoned sheep says:

      Emily, you are partly right about what happens through the process of addictions.
      However, no matter the process, no one is excused from responsibility for their actions because they are addicted. Addiction comes after adherence to the behaviour for a period of time- it is not an instantaneous happening.
      The well-worn statement- Do the Crime – Do the Time -still applies.
      You sound like a mother who would never admit her son COULD make a serious mistake or be involved in a crime because he is your son! Poor logic!

    • Lina says:

      I do feel sorry for all those people who are hurting, feeling betrayed and are very disappointed in Fr. Joe LeClair.

      There is an over the top selfishness going on in this priest with this gratification he got from stealing.

      It was more important to him to keep on with his crime spree than taking that humble path of setting aside his pride to seek help.
      He knows many priests. I wonder making a contrite confession ever cross his mind?

      Telling Fr. Joe you still love him is fine and dandy but downplaying the seriousness of his crimes is simply wrong. You want to be an enabler that’s your choice but don’t expect others here to jump on that bandwagon.

      I hope Fr. Joe LeClair turns his life around by sincerely taking full responsibility for his actions.

      • B says:

        Emily,

        Addiction recovery is characterized by relapses; that’s why it is crucial that addicts take responsibility for both their ongoing behaviour, and for the social consequences of their criminal acts.

        It does no addict a favour to protect them from facing the truth, to minimize their crimes, or to try to explain away their lapses. Yes, we all make mistakes, but we only grow by accepting responsibility. Hoping that the judge will perceive him primarily as a victim of his disease is like suggesting that he’s not capable of the strength needed to face his demons head-on.

    • Bob says:

      I trust the judge will balance the desire to both rehabilitate Fr. Joe for a productive future with the need to ensure that people in a position of trust are accountable to that trust.

      Many people who commit fraud are people who are unwell – depression, money problems, addictions, you name it. And any such people who “fall into crime” after a maybe less than intentional journey to get there are deserving of our compassion, and hopefully they get it.

      But all that said, people in a position of trust must be given disincentives to abuse that trust. One of the tools our society has to do that is by making fraud a serious crime, one that usually comes with serious consequences, whose normative sentence does typically involve imprisonment.

      The judge will have a hard time ignoring the damage done to the morale and sustainability of the parish, the losses accrued to the insurance firm that had to pay out the difference, and the extra responsibilities that ended up being heaped on the diocese and the Companions of the Cross.

      And from our perspective as Catholics, what about those now disillusioned and fallen away over this? These things are not nothing.

      So while I hope the judge shows Fr. Joe compassion, we must also recognize there is an imperative there to also set an example, that integrity is required of people in positions of trust, and that there are some unavoidable consequences when this requirement goes unmet.

      Don’t worry about Father Joe. He has a future – the archdiocese has made statements that suggest he has a roadway back into ministry, and many people get a second act in their lives, even when they fall. He’s going through a difficult time now, but he’ll get through it. Lots of people do, and that in some ways is Christianity’s main story – we all get a second act.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *