The Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa says it has hired an accounting firm to conduct an audit of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Ottawa, after a report alleging the church had lax financial controls and its popular clergyman had racked up large credit card bills.
Archbishop of Ottawa Terrence Prendergast issued a statement over the weekend saying that reports of Rev. Joe LeClair's lifestyle were brought to the church's attention and that Msgr. Kevin Beach had met with LeClair to "establish past facts and norms for his future conduct."
LeClair has admitted he has a gambling problem but says he hasn't spent any church money on it.
Prendergast's announcement of the audit follows a report in the Ottawa Citizen that alleged LeClair had credit card bills of more than $490,000 over 2009 and 2010.
Of these bills, the Citizen report also said, there were cash advances during those years that came to about $389,000, including a total of $137,000 borrowed on his credit card at Casino du Lac-Leamy.
Salary just over $24,000 a year
According to the news report, LeClair has paid most of the cash advance, but the report raised questions about how he was able to do that with an annual salary of just over $24,000, even with potential additional revenue from officiating weddings, baptisms, funerals and other ceremonies.
LeClair, who originally hails from Prince Edward Island, has attracted a following at the church in Ottawa's Glebe neighbourhood and has a reputation as a charismatic speaker and community leader. He has also been forthright in detailing his battles with depression.
In a mass Saturday, the priest acknowledged gambling had become a "significant problem" in his life but denied any allegation he had stolen money from the church.
After he spoke, the congregation gave him a standing ovation.
Prendergast said the church hired national accounting firm Deloitte & Touche a month ago to begin an audit of the church's finances after questions were first raised about the financial administration of the parish.
"The audit is ongoing," Prendergast said. "Once the audit is completed, diocesan administration will act promptly and prudently to take whatever further steps are deemed necessary."
LeClair wouldn't comment Monday to CBC News.