Police charged Father Joseph LeClair with theft and fraud Tuesday, after an 11-month investigation into alleged financial wrongdoing at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in the Glebe.
In August, the archdiocese asked police to investigate the finances at the church and investigators now allege that between January 2006 and May 2011, cheques worth more than $240,000 from the Parish were misappropriated by LeClair, the parish priest.
Another $160,000 is unaccounted for and $20,000 of furniture and household items belonging to the Parish were taken from the rectory when the parish priest left, police allege.
While LeClair has admitted to having a gambling problem and sought treatment for it, he has denied taking money from the church.
In the wake of the accusations about LeClair, the diocese instituted stricter control measures concerning parish finances.
“We strongly recommend to charitable organizations, from the neighborhood hockey associations to religious organizations, to have in place clear and up-to-date fiscal management practices,” said Sgt. Richard Dugal of the Ottawa Police Organized Fraud Section. “Have proper checks and balances and an arm’s length regular review process. Many such organizations rely on volunteers and well-meaning individuals to assist but without proper fiscal management practices, it leaves the organizations vulnerable to abuse.”
LeClair is charged with fraud over $5,000, theft over $5,000, criminal breach of trust and laundering the proceeds of crime. He was released on a promise to appear for court on July 25.
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa Terrence Prendergast released a statemnt Wednesday morning in an email saying:
“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. Many people, in our Catholic community and beyond, will be hurt and disappointed by this news.”
Prendergast also said in the statement that after the events involving LeClair came to light the church has been obliged review its expectations of priests and has also changed the administration of parish finances, with, “greater controls, accountability and review.”
“Today, let us be mindful of Fr. LeClair. I invite our Catholic community to also pray for the faithful of Blessed Sacrament Parish. They have been particularly burdened and pained by what has happened over the last year. Let us pray that they receive the Lord’s blessing of healing, reconciliation and peace which will support them in their continued journey as a community of faith,” Prendergast’s statement said.