A popular Ottawa priest is facing theft and fraud charges following a lengthy investigation by Ottawa police.

Father Joe LeClair, former pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in the Glebe, has been charged with one count each of fraud over $5,000, theft over $5,000, criminal breach of trust and laundering proceeds of crime.

Police allege Leclair improperly used $240,000 in cheques from the church over a period of more than five years, with another $160,000 in cash and $20,000 in furniture unaccounted for.

Investigators said they were able to get some of the furniture back from a home outside the province.

"These are very significant and serious charges," said Const. Henri Lanctot of the Ottawa Police, as some of the charges come with a maximum penalty of ten years in prison.

Allegations of wrongdoing against LeClair first appeared in the Ottawa Citizen in April 2011, with the Ottawa Archdiocese filing a complaint with police in September.

LeClair stepped down shortly after the original allegations, saying he had a “significant” gambling problem and was going into treatment for addiction.

At the time, he said he didn’t take any money from the church to pay off his gambling debts.

Church, police say lessons can be learned

Parishioners said LeClair had a gift of getting people to give.

"He would pull at our heart strings," said Henia O'Malley. "He would be so many good things, we would open up our purse more and give to him."

Others said the numbers involved were shocking.

"Personally I'm sad to hear it, I think it had to come to a head," said former parishioner Lawrence Ambler. "I think justice has been done in this particular case, from everything I've heard."

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, the Archbishop of Ottawa, said in a statement that these events are causing Catholics to review their expectations and care of priests.

“We have been reminded that we priests are in a position of trust with respect to the people whom we pastor,” he said.

“That trust includes proper and transparent administration of money and other temporal goods given to us by parishioners and other donors.”

Prendergrast pointed to new financial rules for the archdiocese, which echo concerns raised by police.

“We strongly recommend to charitable organizations . . . have in place clear and up-to-date fiscal management practices,” said Sgt. Richard Dugal of the Ottawa police’s Organized Fraud section.

“Many such organizations rely on volunteers and well-meaning individuals to assist but without proper fiscal management practices, it leaves the organizations vulnerable to abuse.

Most chuchgoers who spoke to CTV Ottawa said they're sticking by their well-loved priest, who presided over a return to popularity for their church and weddings of former mayor Larry O'Brien and Chris Phillips of the Ottawa Senators.

LeClair was released on promise to appear in court July 25. He has not been de-frocked, only barred from the ministry.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's John Hua