Fr. Joe LeClair's theft was blamed on stress accompanied by a gambling addiction and alcohol problem. In 2016, he pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence, with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit. Register file photo

Priest convicted of fraud, theft returns to Ottawa ministry

By 
  • September 28, 2018

OTTAWA – A popular and charismatic priest, Fr. Joe LeClair, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing parish funds to pay for a gambling addiction, has returned to ministry in Ottawa.

LeClair was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to charges of fraud and theft of $130,000 in January 2014. After his release from prison in November 2014 he helped as an assistant priest in a Moncton, N.B., parish. His latest assignment was at a parish in Guelph, Ont.

The priest’s theft was blamed on stress accompanied by a gambling addiction and alcohol problem. In 2016, he pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence, with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit. In a recent letter to priests, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast announced that LeClair had finished his assignment in the Hamilton diocese and had returned to Ottawa.

“As you can imagine, this is a challenging transition and we would like to support his return to ministry here in Ottawa,” the archbishop said. “His reintegration into active ministry may generate attention so I am writing to you to clarify his living arrangements and current ministry. We are working together to provide support and accountability in his reintegration into ministry here in Ottawa.”

He reported the priest is living in a residence with other priests and will be filling in for pastors away from their commitments.

“I have asked Father Joe to be available to help with Masses in parishes, to help with funerals (especially the growing number of requests for a funeral with a Liturgy of the Word in funeral home chapels), hospital on-call ministry in the evenings and weekends and other opportunities to provide ministerial assistance,” Prendergast said. “He is eager to serve and wants to support the pastors in any way he can.”

LeClair was extremely popular when he served at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Ottawa, and dozens of supporters attended all his court appearances. Some parishioners had been angry the archdiocese decided to pursue criminal charges, even though an audit revealed more than $400,000 in funds was unaccounted for. Since the discovery of the theft the Ottawa archdiocese has tightened up its accounting and supervision practices when it comes to donations.

“Father Joe has a long history of providing compassionate pastoral care to parishioners and I am confident that his skills and availability will be of great assistance,” said Prendergast. “At the present time, this on-call availability will be his assigned ministry.”

The archbishop noted the criminal charges, conviction and time in prison that has been “difficult not only for Father Joe but also for parishioners and many others in our archdiocese.”

“At this moment in time, together as a Christian community, we can model forgiveness and support a brother in his desire to be of priestly service to God’s people,” the archbishop said.

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

dodgy: priest & Archbishop
Neither should be sitting at the tables of the powerful

Kevin McNiff
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