Police called in to probe Ottawa parish finances

  • September 21, 2011

OTTAWA - The Ottawa archdiocese has asked police to investigate the finances of a parish that had been led by a charismatic priest who admitted last spring to a gambling addiction.

In a Sept. 18 letter distributed to parishioners at Blessed Sacrament parish in Ottawa’s Glebe neighbourhood,  Ottawa Vicar General Msgr. Kevin Beach said an independent audit of church finances found “questionable practices that require further investigation.”

Beach had no further comment on the matter, but a spokeswoman for the archdiocese said he will answer questions after the 11 a.m. Mass Sept. 25 at Blessed Sacrament.

The audit by Deloitte & Touche reviewed the finances from 2006-2010 and the early part of 2011, prior to Fr. Joe LeClair’s resignation from the parish in May. According to Beach, the audit found: the parish lacked controls on collections and other revenues; had deficient accounting procedures; failed to hold $50,000 of donations directed to refugee sponsorships in a reserve account; and ran in a deficit position for four out of five years. The parish is in a deficit position now of more than $40,000, Beach said.

The parish could not meet the expenses of refugee sponsorship even though the money had been donated to the church specifically for that purpose, the letter said.

“Conscious of the leadership that Fr. LeClair has provided in building a vibrant community at Blessed Sacrament, as well as the counsel and help that he has extended to many individuals over the years, we did not take lightly the decision to refer this matter to the police,” Beach said in his letter.

LeClair, who is in treatment for his gambling problem, has insisted that he never used parish funds to feed his gambling problem. The Ottawa Citizen revealed in April the priest had racked up $490,000 in credit card bills in the previous two years, of which he repaid Visa $424,000.

The priest’s lawyer told the Citizen LeClair believes the police investigation will exonerate him, according to a Sept. 19 report.  

“The archdiocese ultimately has responsibility for reviewing and auditing the financial statements submitted by the parish council,” said lawyer Ian Stauffer in a statement. “Unfortunately, the entire focus has been placed on Fr. Joe, without any questions being asked as to the role of these bodies during the last five years.”

LeClair, a popular priest, has been credited with rebuilding Blessed Sacrament from a dying parish to one of the most vibrant in the city. He admitted to a gambling problem after the Citizen ran the story about his credit card bills. But he insisted he only used personal funds. Though he earned a base salary of $24,400 a year, the priest also received money for marriage preparation courses, for marriages, baptisms and funerals.

“We have not been able to substantiate some amounts that have been claimed by him as parish expenditures,” Beach wrote. “In addition, other amounts were paid to Fr. LeClair which were designated as discretionary allowances and stipends.

“It should be noted that Fr. LeClair has not seen the audit and has not had the opportunity to respond to its contents,” the Vicar General cautioned.

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