By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
Father Joe LeClair, who was scheduled to make his first court appearance July 25 on charges of theft, fraud and breach of trust, had his first appearance postponed until Sept. 5.
Father LeClair, 55, who admitted last year to a gambling addiction and had previously publicly discussed his battle with depression, did not come to court when Lawyer Kim Hyslop, acting for Father LeClair’s defense counsel Matthew Webber, asked the court for more time for evidence disclosure.
“This is a complex matter and we anticipate there being lengthy disclosure,” Hyslop said.
About ten apparent supporters of the popular priest were in the courtroom when his name was read and Hyslop rose to speak. They filed out en masse when the new date was set.
The supporters refused to give any interviews to waiting news media, though a couple of individuals said they considered news coverage biased against the priest.
On July 3, in a news release, the Ottawa Police Organized Fraud Investigation unit revealed $240,000 worth of cheques written to Blessed Sacrament Parish were “misappropriated,” and more than $160,000 in case revenues, “unaccounted for.”
The investigation also found $20,000 of furniture and parish property that had been taken from the rectory and was recovered “at a residence outside the province.”
The Ottawa Citizen began a series of lengthy reports into Father LeClair in early 2010, including reports of huge credit card bills and cash advances from a casino in Quebec.
That year, the archdiocese asked for a forensic audit of parish finances that took six months. It turned the results over to the police who spent nearly a year investigating the matter before charges were laid in early July.
When the charges were announced, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast acknowledged that Father LeClair had assisted many people in the diocese at the several parishes he had pastored over his 25 years of ministry. “Many people, in our Catholic community and beyond, will be hurt and disappointed by this news,” he said.
Archbishop Prendergast said priests “are in a position of trust” that includes “proper and transparent” administration of money and other goods from parishioners and donors.
In April 2011, Father LeClair apologized to his parish and admitted to having a gambling addiction, but said he had never misused parish funds as a result.
Since the problems at Blessed Sacrament came to light, the archdiocese has launched a new financial protocol to improve accountability and oversight.