|Father Joseph LeClair, formerly of Blessed Sacrament in Ottawa, in a 2005 QMI Agency file photo. (TONY CALDWELL/QMI Agency)
OTTAWA — The Archdiocese of Ottawa has promised greater controls over the financial administration of parishes following criminal charges against a former local priest.
On Tuesday evening, police announced Joe LeClair, 55, has been charged with one count each of theft over $5,000, fraud over $5,000, breach of trust and laundering the proceeds of crime. The charges come after an investigation into the financial administration of Blessed Sacrament Parish. LeClair was formerly the parish priest at Blessed Sacrament Church.
"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," Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa, said in a release. "Many people, in our Catholic community and beyond, will be hurt and disappointed by this news. The events concerning Fr. LeClair which have come to light over the past year have obliged us to review our expectations of priests, as well as our care of them."
A police investigation was launched after the Archdiocese of Ottawa filed a complaint in August regarding financial concerns with Blessed Sacrament Parish.
Police said more than $240,000 in cheques were misappropriated and an additional $160,000 in cash was missing.
Police say they also uncovered $20,000 in furniture and household goods belonging to the church that went missing when LeClair left. Some of those items were recovered, police said.
The investigation covered a period from January 2006 to May 2011.
Prendergast confirmed the archdiocese has implemented a new protocol for the financial administration of parishes, including greater controls, accountability and review.
"I invite our Catholic community to also pray for the faithful of Blessed Sacrament Parish," the statement continued. "They have been particularly burdened and pained by what has happened over the last year."
LeClair is scheduled to appear in court on July 25.