Father Joe's Visa bills were stolen, says lawyer
The lawyer for a popular Ottawa priest who has admitted to a gambling problem says the Visa statements that show Father Joe LeClair's addiction were stolen from his office.
"The theft was clearly perpetrated to attempt to disgrace Father Joe," lawyer Ian Stauffer told CTV Ottawa in an e-mail on Monday.
LeClair admitted his gambling problem to his congregation at Blessed Sacrament Parish in the Glebe Saturday after an investigation by the Ottawa Citizen revealed the priest received nearly half a million dollars in cash advances on his credit cards in 2009 and 2010.
In those same years, he took cash advances of more than $137,000 at Casino du Lac Leamy, according to the newspaper.
The report also raised questions about $250,000 in cheques that were made out to LeClair from Church accounts. Archbishop Terrence Prendergast says an audit of the Church's books is now underway.
However, LeClair's lawyer says the newspaper report is a breach of privacy.
"We have not been afforded the opportunity to view the paperwork which the Citizen has published," said Stauffer.
"Further, we have no information whatsoever as to how the Citizen obtained the number '$250,000' appearing on the front page of the April 16th edition."
LeClair's lawyer told CTV Ottawa he is "very concerned that the paper has left the impression that Father Joe is misappropriating Church funds."
Although LeClair admitted to having a gambling problem, he told his congregation that he never stole money from the Church.
"Some months ago, I had to face up to the fact that my gambling was . . . a significant problem in my life," LeClair said.
He told parishioners the money used to fund his addiction came from his own winnings and personal funds. His congregation gave him a standing ovation Saturday, followed by a moment of prayer.
LeClair is well-loved in Ottawa's Catholic community, and is credited with building his parish into one of the strongest Catholic churches in the city.
"Father Joe is an honourable guy, probably the best person I know. I definitely think they are all false accusations," one parishioner told CTV Ottawa.
However, gambling is a serious addiction in Canada. In Ontario alone, experts say 322,000 people experience problems related to gambling -- and the addiction can affect anyone.
"People get into trouble because the more they play, they keep hoping to get that big win and hoping that the win is going to solve the problem," said Dallas Smith, a gambling addictions counsellor.
The Responsible Gambling Council says those who have gambling problems often max out their credit cards, borrow money to gamble and place bets with money they can't afford to lose. The council says problem gambling is not unique – it can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, race or social status.
With a report from CTV Ottawa's Catherine Lathem