Ottawa priest’s ‘lifestyle’ prompts financial audit

By 
  • April 19, 2011

Fr. Joe LeClair of Ottawa's Blessed Sacrament parish

OTTAWA - The Ottawa archdiocese confirmed it had launched an audit of the finances of Blessed Sacrament parish “some weeks” before two front-page stories appeared in the Ottawa Citizen April 16-17 raising questions about the lifestyle of its popular pastor.

The Citizen reported that Fr. Joe Le Clair had cash advances from the Lac-Leamy Casino across the Ottawa River in Quebec of more than $137,000 in 2009-2010, and incurred a credit card debt of more than $490,000 in that time period. It reported Le Clair had repaid Visa $424,000. 

“How he could afford to repay that much is not known, other than the fact that as a Church pastor, Le Clair earns a net salary of $24,400,” journalists Meghan Hurley and Andrew Duffy wrote.

Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., in a statement issued April 16, said stories about Le Clair’s “lifestyle” were brought to the attention of diocesan authorities in late 2010 and early 2011. He instructed his Vicar General, Msgr. Kevin Beach, to “clarify the issues raised by the stories.”

“In the context of Church discipline and fraternal concern, Msgr. Beach met with Fr. Le Clair to establish past facts and norms for his future conduct,” said Prendergast. “As for the question of the financial administration of Blessed Sacrament parish raised by the Citizen story, I can advise parishioners and the wider community that the above-noted stories prompted me, some weeks ago, to instruct that an audit be conducted of the financial administration of the parish.”

Prendergast assured that “once the audit is completed, diocesan administration will act promptly and prudently to take whatever further steps are deemed necessary.”

“As a citizen, Fr. Joe Le Clair is entitled to his privacy and to defend his reputation,” said Prendergast in his statement. “As a priest and pastor, he is called to the public witness of a lifestyle consistent with Gospel values and Church teaching.”

The newspaper said the popular priest received a standing ovation after apologizing to the parish and admitting he had a gambling problem. He insisted he never stole parish money, but he earned enough from gambling to cover his debts. He did admit that he lacked having “strong financial controls and transparency” in place to enable him to respond quickly to questions about the management of parish finances.

“Some months ago I had to face up to the fact that my gambling was not just a harmless, stress-releasing activity as I had led myself to believe but ... a significant problem in my life,” he told the 4:30 p.m. Saturday Mass, according to the Citizen. “I experienced that which every person who has ever had a gambling problem can identify — a trap.”

Le Clair is among Ottawa’s best known and most popular priests and is said to have taken Blessed Sacrament from a dying parish in Ottawa’s Glebe neighbourhood to one of the liveliest in the city.

On April 17, the Citizen reported Le Clair had apologized to the archbishop for “embarrassment to the archdiocese and the Church.”

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