Psychiatrist’s report says former pastor’s narcissism and anxiety both contributed to his downward spiral
The Ottawa Citizen
Photograph by: Mike Carroccetto , Ottawa Citizen
OTTAWA — A weeping Father Joseph LeClair told court Wednesday he is “painfully ashamed” that he breached the trust of the parish he cared for and is “deeply remorseful” for stealing more than $130,000 from his church.
“I would like to assure your Honour that I now fully appreciate the extreme gravity of my actions,” LeClair said in an emotional statement on the last day of his sentencing hearing Wednesday.
The convicted fraudster told court he has embarrassed and humiliated the Catholic Church, dishonoured the priesthood and jeopardized the vocation he believes is his calling.
“Again, I apologize to all for any pain I have caused,” LeClair said. “It was always my hope and desire that my involvement in the lives of others would lessen or diminish hardship, not cause it.”
LeClair told court that he hopes he can be forgiven and that he can continue to receive counselling for the gambling and alcohol addictions that his defence lawyer, Matthew Webber, argued led to his loss of control and downward spiral.
LeClair said it took him time, but he finally recognized he had a problem and sought help for what he called an inexcusable weakness.
“I now better understand that my addictions to alcohol and gambling contributed to my thoughtless and irrational behaviour,” LeClair told court. “At the time, I must confess, I did not ever really turn my mind to the gravity of my conduct.”
LeClair said he prays that Ontario Court Justice Jack Nadelle will consider a conditional sentence so LeClair can continue his treatment for his addictions.
“However, I fully accept responsibility for the wrongs I have committed and accept whatever consequences should befall me,” LeClair said.
According to a report written by Dr. Julian Gojer, a Toronto psychiatrist, LeClair completed four months of treatment at Southdown Institute, followed by both alcohol and gamblers anonymous meetings and educational sessions on anxiety, depression and mindfulness.
“I fully realize that the discipline necessary to overcome addictions is an ever mindful and lifelong commitment, and I am committed to waging this fight for the rest of my life,” LeClair told court.
While LeClair briefly touched on his fall from grace, Gojer’s report submitted as evidence in the former pastor’s sentencing hearing outlined it in detail.
The path to crime was rooted in LeClair’s narcissistic personality, a “low capacity for frustration, a high need for immediate gratification and a tendency toward impulsivity,” the report said.
LeClair was already suffering from anxiety and was obsessed with his work when he was transferred to Blessed Sacrament Church 15 years ago.
He began to take anti-depressants, but he wasn’t sure if they actually helped.
By reaching out to the community, LeClair began to build a parish out of almost nothing, the report said.
The church began to grow and soon the number of parishioners went up tenfold.
LeClair began to feel stretched too thin, which caused his anxiety to manifest in a tingling feeling on his face and a burning sensation in his mouth and on his tongue, Gojer’s report said.
“He said that he got caught up in the quest to make the parish bigger and successful,” Gojer wrote in his report. “He was praised by his superiors for his efforts.”
Gojer wrote that LeClair viewed himself as special and deserving of the praise and admiration of others.
But when a new archbishop and vicar general took over the Archdiocese of Ottawa, they didn’t give LeClair as much praise as their predecessors, the report said.
By the time the new archbishop took the reins, Blessed Sacrament’s population had exploded. LeClair was counselling more than ever, but soon his anxiety increased and he became sullen, the report said.
It was sometime after his anxiety heightened that he began to drink scotch every night.
LeClair’s alcohol consumption eventually increased to between six and eight scotches every night.
Added to his problem drinking in 2008 was frequent gambling at the Lac-Leamy Casino.
“It was not uncommon for him to be somewhat intoxicated during these visits,” Gojer noted in his report. “He enjoyed visiting the cigar bar and the ambience.”
On one occasion, LeClair won $100,000 at the casino. The high of such a big win likely caused his gambling to quickly escalate to casino trips almost daily, the report said.
The debt he incurred on his credit card at the casino was paid off by stealing from the church. LeClair thought he was invincible and beyond reproach, the report said.
“He deep down, however, knew that what he was doing was wrong, but had blinded himself to the fact that he was also breaking the law,” Gojer wrote.
The report said LeClair’s gambling and the troubles at Blessed Sacrament were made public when the Citizen ran a story in April 2011 about the financial irregularities at the church, but it wasn’t until later that LeClair realized he had a problem and sought help for addiction.
LeClair pleaded guilty Monday to fraud and theft after admitting to taking $130,000 in church funds. An independent audit of the church finances found roughly $400,000 of $1.16 million deposited into LeClair’s personal account between January 2006 and December 2010 could not be accounted for.
LeClair will return to court on March 19 for his sentence.
Fr. LeClair apologizes to parishioners, Catholic Church in tearful court statement
22 January 2014
Sarah Anderson (@SarahCFRA)
Father Joe LeClair, the former priest of Blessed Sacrament Church in the Glebe, will appear before a judge March 19 to learn his sentence for fraud and theft of $130,000, misdirected between 2005 and 2011.
He pleaded guilty Monday to stealing the money from his parishioners, in part, to fuel a gambling addiction. That addiction has been classified by experts as pathological gambling in a psychiatric evaluation LeClair was ordered to undergo by the courts.
The Crown is seeking a sentence of police custody in the range of 18 months plus two years probation that would include hundreds of hours of community service.
Crown lawyer Peter Napier argued LeClair’s addiction doesn’t excuse the theft that occurred and cited case law to show it wasn’t considered a mitigating factor in other, similar cases.
He argued LeClair’s fraud wasn’t a particularly sophisticated crime but said it didn’t need to be because the victims in the case had placed an incredible amount of trust in their former priest.
“That’s what defines this case: the trust that father Leclair took advantage of,” Napier said.
Defence lawyers argue Father Joe LeClair should serve a conditional sentence only because his addiction left him with little control over his actions. Lawyer Matthew Webber also argued that the forgiveness of the parishioners is a mitigating factor because there was no profound or lasting damage done because of the crime.
Throughout the allegations, audit, investigation and charges parishioners have stood by LeClair and more than two dozen attended sentencing proceedings, showing their support despite LeClair’s guilty plea.
“We want to extend the compassion, the good will, and the love that he’s always extended to us and to me that’s what society in general is all about. We don’t just kick somebody to the curb and break an already broken man. To me, that is simply unconscionable,” said Marianna Burch, a longtime parishioner at Blessed Sacrament.
Parishioners have said they have forgiven LeClair and Burch said they will support him no matter what his sentence.
“I guarantee, I would stake my life on the fact that he will do everything he can, Father Joe that is, for the rest of his life to make restitution for everything that’s happened,” said Burch.
In a tearful apology LeClair told the court he would fight for the rest of his life to overcome his addictions and atone for what he did.
“Not only did I hurt my parish I dishonoured the priesthood at large,” LeClair read, saying he was profoundly sorry for what he did.
“Alcohol and gambling addictions contributed to my thoughtless and irrational behaviour. I was literally unable to control myself,” he said.
He said he has come a long way to understanding his conditions and his crimes and said he will continue treatment as soon as he is able.
“I am committed to waging this fight for the rest of my life,” he said.
The local diocese of the Catholic Church has said it will welcome LeClair back to the pulpit when the legal fight and any sentence he is to serve are behind him.
Photo courtesy CTV Ottawa