Not just an internal matter

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Ottawa Citizen

September  28, 2011

Nobody is asking the Ottawans who worship at Blessed Sacrament Parish to stop  being proud of their congregation or to stop loving their former pastor, Father  Joseph LeClair. It is possible to respect Father Joe’s remarkable work as a  spiritual leader and counsellor while acknowledging that the diocese has a  responsibility to maintain good records and investigate financial  irregularities.

Indeed, that responsibility extends not only to parishioners, but also to all  Canadian taxpayers. This is not merely an internal matter, as some parishioners  would have it. Churches benefit from the generous incentives for charity in  Canada’s tax system. In Ontario, taxpayers who give more than $200 to a charity  receive federal and provincial tax credits worth about 46 per cent of their  donations. And the effects of financial difficulties can be felt beyond the  church; for example, a deficit at Blessed Sacrament has left it without adequate  cash on hand to cover third-party donations intended for the sponsorship of a  refugee family. So it’s crucial that religious organizations be accountable and  transparent. And it is the role of the media to ask questions whenever the  answers might be in the public interest.

To its credit, the Archdiocese of Ottawa is not trying to hide or shrug off  its questions about Blessed Sacrament’s finances. It recently concluded several  months of review, which included an audit from Deloitte and Touche. In a recent  letter to parishioners, Msgr. Kevin Beach wrote, “As for the issues touching on  Fr. LeClair’s administration of the parish, our review has found that there are  questionable transactions that require further investigation. As a result, we  have referred the matter to the Ottawa Police Service for investigation.”

This was the right thing to do if the diocese felt there were matters the  police should consider. It is worth noting that the police and Crown might very  well find no grounds for any charges.

LeClair admitted in the spring that he has a gambling problem; he resigned as  pastor and is seeking treatment. He has said he financed his gambling with his  own money.

The diocese has been working to improve parish financial administration since  these concerns came to light, and it has acknowledged accounting practices were  substandard. It must bear some of the responsibility for letting the books get  into such a state in the first place.

Whether or not charges are laid against LeClair, the diocese deserves credit  for facing this challenge now head on and endeavouring to get at the  truth.

1 Response to Not just an internal matter

  1. Sylvia says:

    Some good points raised in this Citizen Editorial of yesterday, particularly the matter of the charitable status which the Church enjoys here in Canada. It is indeed crucial that the there be accountability for monies received.

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