Accused priest, archdiocese under fire
Posted: Jul 4, 2012 1:01 PM ET
Last Updated: Jul 4, 2012 1:38 PM ET
Shock and frustration is running through a Catholic parish in Ottawa after its former priest was charged with defrauding the church of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Father Joe LeClair, seen here in a video for You know who I am, an organization aimed at de-stigmatizing mental illness. (CBC)
LeClair, who originally hails from Prince Edward Island, is alleged to have misappropriated more than $240,000 in cheques from the parish between January 2006 and May 2011.
Police also allege $160,000 in cash revenues were unaccounted for, while about $20,000 in furniture and household items belonging to the parish were taken from the rectory when LeClair left.
A portion of those items was recovered at a residence outside of Ontario, police said.
Archdiocese filed complaint
An Ottawa police investigation was sparked when Ottawa’s Catholic archdiocese filed a complaint in August 2011.
The audit was initiated following a media report LeClair had racked up large credit card bills, as well as the discovery the church had few financial controls.
Parishioner Holly Doan, whose son was baptized at Blessed Sacrament, said her husband was disillusioned in response to the fraud charges. (CBC)
One parishioner CBC News spoke with was frustrated at the reactionary response from the church and LeClair’s activities. Holly Doan said the church trusted LeClair too much, adding it is “too late” to put more controls on the financial freedom of priests.
She also called LeClair “a sinner”.
In the past, members of the congregation have maintained a common attitude wishing for LeClair’s repentance and wishing him well in his rehabilitation.
Archdiocese promises “greater controls”
The archdiocese also commented Wednesday with a statement describing how they plan to review the monitoring of priests.
“The events concerning Fr. LeClair which have come to light over the past year have obliged us to review our expectations of priests, as well as our care of them,” said Rev. Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.
“The events of the past year have also led our archdiocese to institute a new protocol for the financial administration of our parishes. The protocol calls for greater controls, accountability and review.”
LeClair had attracted a following in his 13 years at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Ottawa’s Glebe neighbourhood and had a reputation as a charismatic speaker and community leader.
He stepped down in May 2011 amid allegations he had misappropriated church funds.
LeClair was released on Tuesday with a promise to appear in court July 25.
The Archdiocese of Ottawa has spoken out following criminal charges against a former local priest.
On Tuesday evening, Ottawa Police announced Joe LeClair, 55, was being charged with one count each of theft over $5,000, fraud over $5,000, breach of trust and laundering the proceeds of crime. The charges come after an investigation into the financial administration at Blessed Sacrament Parish. LeClair was formerly the parish priest at Blessed Sacrament Church.
On Wednesday morning, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa, released a statement following the news of the charges.
“Given the many people that Fr. LeClair has assisted as well as the several parishes which he has pastored during his 25 years of ministry, today is a sad day for our local church in Ottawa,” reads the statement. “Many people, in our Catholic community and beyond, will be hurt and disappointed by this news. The events concerning Fr. LeClair which have come to light over the past year have obliged us to review our expectations of priests, as well as our care of them.”
A police investigation was launched after the Archdiocese of Ottawa filed a complaint in August regarding financial concerns with Blessed Sacrament Parish.
Investigations uncovered more than $240,000 in cheques were misappropriated, police said. As well, an additional $160,000 in cash was missing.
Police also uncovered $20,000 in furniture and household goods belonging to the church that went missing when LeClair left, with a number of those items recovered in a home outside of Ontario.
The investigations covered a period from Jan. 2006 to May 2011.
None of the charges against LeClair have been proved in court.
Prendergast acknowledged that priests are in a position of trust in their congregations and community, including the “proper and transparent administration of money and other temporal goods” given to the church by parishioners and donors.
Prendergast also confirmed that the archdiocese has implemented a new protocol for the financial administration of parishes, including greater controls, accountability and review.
“I invite our Catholic community to also pray for the faithful of Blessed Sacrament Parish,” the statement continued. “They have been particularly burdened and pained by what has happened over the last year.”
LeClair is scheduled to appear in court on July 25.