The Ottawa Citizen
08 July 2012
By Matthew Pearson
OTTAWA — Parishioners at Blessed Sacrament Church were asked at Sunday mass to pray for Father Joseph LeClair, days after the popular priest who formerly led the congregation was charged with theft, fraud, money laundering and breach of trust.
A warm morning sun streamed in as about 100 people, many dressed casually in shorts and flip flops, gathered in the 80-year-old sanctuary, where high above purple ribbons were criss-crossed leading up to the altar, over which a purple and white ribbon was draped from the ceiling.
While many might grieve over the situation with Father Joe, as he was known, they must keep their eyes fixed on the Lord, urged Father Francis Donnelly.
“It is so important for all of us to keep the main thing the main thing,” he said.
He revisited Father Joe’s situation during the homily, reminding those gathered that God exists on earth in human instruments, even if those instruments may falter at times.
He also read parishioners a letter from Father Randy Hendriks, Blessed Sacrament’s main pastor, who is on sabbatical until September.
The letter offered his greetings, prayers and love during a difficult time in the parish and encouraged people to pray for Father Joe.
A similar petition was included during the Prayers of the Faithful. There was also mention of Father Joe in the weekly newsletter.
“It is not for us priests of the parish to pronounce on the charges against Fr. Joe, only to say that we grieve for him and for all the people wounded by this notoriety,” wrote Father Connelly.
“We will continue to pray for Fr. Joe, that he receive justice before the tribunal on earth, salvation at the throne of grace, and compassion in the hearts of all people.”
The charges laid this week against LeClair come after an 11-month police investigation into financial irregularities at the church.
The Ottawa Police fraud investigation covered a period of five years — from January 2006 to May 2011 — and found that more than $240,000 was allegedly misappropriated by LeClair through cheques issued by the priest on church accounts.
Another $160,000 of parish funds were unaccounted for, the police said, while approximately $20,000 in furniture and household items belonging to the parish were allegedly taken from the rectory when the priest left to begin addictions treatment.
Fraud investigators were able to recover some of the items that belonged to the church.
An immensely popular and dynamic priest, LeClair has always denied taking money from church coffers. He has hired well-known criminal defence lawyer Matt Webber to represent him.