SEPTEMBER 17, 2011 6:02 PM
BY ANDREW DUFFY AND MEGHAN HURLEY, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN
Ottawa police have been called in to probe financial irregularities at Blessed Sacrament Parish after a lengthy audit.
Results of the Deloitte and Touche audit were announced Saturday in a letter written by Kevin Beach, the archdiocese’s vicar general.
The letter says the church’s former pastor, Father Joseph LeClair, gave information to auditors before he left that raised questions.
“Our review found that there are questionable transactions that require further investigation,” the letter states. “As a result, we have referred the matter to the Ottawa Police Service for investigation.”
Beach said in the letter that the archdiocese does not take the decision to involve the police lightly.
“There are, however, important issues that need to be investigated in the context of a matter that has received broad community interest, both in the parish and beyond,” Beach wrote in the letter.
Until now, Ottawa police have been unable to launch a probe at Blessed Sacrament despite receiving at least three complaints from concerned church donors.
Chief Vern White said his officers could not retrieve documents at the parish without the co-operation of the diocese, which oversees the church.
Detectives from the police fraud section will now lead the investigation.
Leclair admitted in April he had a gambling problem after the Citizen published a story that revealed the extent of his addiction and the ease with which he could access church funds.
He resigned as pastor in May and is now in a specialized addictions treatment program in Aurora. An immensely popular priest, LeClair, 53, has repeatedly denied taking church money or using church money to gamble.
LeClair, a charismatic leader who made Blessed Sacrament Parish one of the most successful in the city, has insisted that he used his own money and winnings to fund his casino gambling.
In April, the Citizen revealed that LeClair received more than $137,000 in cash advances on his credit card at Casino du Lac-Leamy during 2009 and 2010. He withdrew up to $9,427.50 using Visa on a single night, according to documents obtained by the newspaper.
LeClair racked up personal credit card bills of more than $490,000 during those two years and repaid Visa more than $424,000.
LeClair earned a net salary of $24,400. He also received money for marriage counselling and for officiating at weddings, baptisms and funerals.
As Blessed Sacrament’s pastor, LeClair was responsible to the diocese for the financial administration of the church. But the church’s financial structure meant the system relied heavily on trust.
LeClair could write cheques to himself from church accounts without a counter-signature. What’s more, he did not have to submit corresponding receipts in order to have a cheque approved.
The church had a finance committee, but it didn’t meet as a group last year.
The former chair of that committee, Herve Dejordy, served as the church’s principal accountant but did not fulfil the role of comptroller. He considered himself a bookkeeper.
“I wouldn’t approve anything: If he (LeClair) writes a cheque, I just record the cheque,” Dejordy told the Citizen in June, weeks before being fired from his volunteer position by the diocese.
The diocese received annual financial statements from Blessed Sacrament, but did not routinely audit them.
The church’s handling of collection money was also less-than-rigorous when compared with other parishes.
Collection proceeds were kept in canvas bags in LeClair’s unlocked office in the church rectory. The money was often not counted until Monday or Tuesday. Weekly collection totals were not published in the church bulletin.
Auditors were first called in to review the church’s books in early March after diocesan officials became aware of financial irregularities.
That review, performed by the firm Deloitte and Touche LLP, initially raised questions about $250,000 worth of cheques issued to LeClair from church accounts between 2006 and 2010.
The auditors recommended measures to improve financial accountability at the church, including that all cheques be counter-signed.
LeClair’s lawyer, Ian Stauffer, pointed to the results of that initial audit as exculpatory after the Citizen confronted the Blessed Sacrament pastor with questions about church finances. LeClair referred all questions to his lawyer.
“From Father Joe’s perspective, the auditors have exonerated Father Joe,” Stauffer said in April.
After the Citizen published its story about LeClair’s gambling and spending, the Ottawa diocese ordered a more thorough audit of Blessed Sacrament’s books.
The results of that audit, which took more than four months to complete, formed the basis of Saturday’s announcement.
LeClair was born and raised on Prince Edward Island. He worked as an elementary school teacher and social services worker before being ordained a priest 25 years ago.
He was appointed to Blessed Sacrament in 1997 and revitalized the parish, which had seen its attendance dwindle in preceding years. Renowned for his storytelling and his tireless work on behalf of parishioners, LeClair became one of the city’s best known priests. He hosted a radio show on CFRA and officiated at the weddings of former mayor Larry O’Brien and Senators defenceman Chris Phillips.
Police to investigate church finances
Updated: Sat Sep. 17 2011 7:14:04 PM
Fr. Joe LeClair speaks publicly for the first time after his gambling addiciton was exposed in April. (Picture taken: May 17, 2011)
Officials from Ottawa’s Blessed Sacrament Church said Saturday police will be investigating financial irregularities at the church.
An audit was done of the church’s finances after the church’s former priest Father Joe Leclair admitted earlier this year he had a gambling problem.
This came after the Ottawa Citizen reported he had allegedly written $250,000 in cheques to himself from the church account and advanced $137,000 of church money to his credit card.
“Our review has found there are questionable transactions that require further investigation,” said the vicar general in a statement.
With a report from CTV Ottawa’s Stefanie Masotti
Catholic Archdiocese Reportedly Calls for Police Probe at a Local Church
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Steve Winogron with Gord McDougall
There’s a report that Ottawa Police are being called in to investigate lingering questions about spending practices at Blessed Sacrament Church.
It’s believed an audit by Deloitte and Touche raises questions which require further investigation, so the diocese is asking police fraud investigators to look further into the matter.
Several months ago, Father Joe LeClair told parishioners he had a gambling problem after an Ottawa Citizen story said he had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling at a local casino.
The priest says he only used his own resources, and not church funds.