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Friday, February 27, 2015

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

"They know where I've been and what I've been through, yes."
"I'm close to them [parents], and I want to spend some time with them."
"I don't have anything to offer on that [jail sentence]."
Rev. Joseph LeClair, Archdiocese of Moncton, New Brunswick
Ottawa Citizen

From Blessed Sacrament Parish in Ottawa to Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish in Moncton, with a stop in between at the Central East Region Correctional Centre, Lindsay Ontario, to serve two-thirds of a year-long sentence for theft and fraud. Despite having defrauded his Ottawa church of a considerable sum of money, his former parishioners still speak of him fondly as "Father Joe", and most, if they could, would welcome him back in a blink of appreciation for all he had done for them.

He took a moribund church and transformed it into a vibrant, lively place of devotion where people flocked to take up their membership once again responding to the quality of the care and compassion Father Joe extended to his parishioners. Two months after his release from prison, Reverend LeClair has a new position as assistant priest at the parish comprised of four churches around and in Moncton, N.B.

He was born on the East Coast, where his parents, now in their 80s, still live; their presence there drew him to return. This, after he'd made such a name for himself as the most popular priest in Ottawa who transformed Blessed Sacrament Parish into one of the city's most successful churches. And he didn't stop there; he hosted a Sunday morning radio show, officiated at weddings, and became a public spokesman for anxiety and depression.

He knew about those conditions, since he suffered from them, aside from being a charismatic and energetic priest. He was gifted with a golden story-telling tongue. And, it seemed, never paused in his dedication to performing his duties and then going well beyond those duties. People depended on his advice, they appreciated his care for them, they reciprocated his support for them personally, and thought he was the finest man alive in the church today.

And then an investigative journalist at a local newspaper must have got wind of someone within the parish who wasn't convinced that Father Joe was all he appeared to be and nothing more. Or less, as the case may be. A scandalous story was told of a man who was an alcoholic, a gambler, and a petty thief. Father Joe was so generous a soul, he would forgive that man's sins. That man was himself. And he denied allegations that he was anything less than a man who cared for others.

He did care for the welfare of others, for their spiritual well-being, and his responsibility to bring them to a place of comfort in the church. He wielded a special psychological power of persuasion, his status that of a man whose goodness and purity of heart raised him on a veritable pedestal. When people feel they are indispensable, that no one can perform as flawlessly as they can, and invest time and energy exhaustively, they often tend to begin to feel entitled.

Father Joe expressed his entitlement by writing cheques to himself from church accounts, by overcharging for his personal expenses, by co-opting Sunday collections, by redirecting fees for marriage preparation courses to his own bank account. An audit of his bank account discovered $1.16 million had migrated into that account between January 2006 and December 2010 with about $400,000 inexplicable in its passage to his personal account.

Eventually, Father Joe stopped declaring his innocence, and admitted that his alcoholism and gambling addiction that grew out of his depression and the stress of the work he had undertaken had led him to theft and fraud. The Archdiocese of Ottawa, after this unfortunate experience, took steps to tighten up their finance-handling to be completely accountable. But the diocese also announced that they intended to assist in his return to the pulpit.

They made good on their word. Father Joe has yet to do the same. But he has expressed remorse.

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