Maybe We’ll Skip Casino Night This Year

By Jeff Forester 05/11/11

Forgive me Father, for I drew on sixteen... priest suspected of raiding the collection plate for a casino addiction.

A standing O for his admission.
Photo via ottawa.ctv.

Father Joseph LeClair, 53, will leave Blessed Sacrament Parish in Ottawa at the end of the month and enter a counseling program for gambling addiction.

In April, the Ottawa Citizen reported that Father LeClair had received more than $137,000 in cash advances on his credit card at the local casino.  His personal credit card bills totaled more than $490,000.  LeClair repaid Visa more than $424,000 during those years, the Citizen reported.  An audit of church finances found that Blessed Sacrament had issued checks totalling $250,000 to LeClair from 2006 to 2009. LeClair had the authority to sign checks, even to himself, without another signature.

LeClair's net salary is $24,000 a year.

Father LeClair, who has often spoken publicly about his battles with depression, confessed from the pulpit on Palm Sunday, saying, "One side effect of depression that I did not entirely realize was that I had been battling a gambling problem that had grown greater and faster in the last couple years." Following his public admission, Father LeClair received a standing ovation. No charges have been filed in the case.

While it remains a controversial diagnosis, experts estimate that about 2-5% of the general population becomes addicted to gambling.  Like other addictions, gambling is a mental health problem that can be linked with impulse-control problems, depression, and bi-polar personality disorder.  People with other addictions are at highest risk for developing pathological gambling issues, as are people with low serotonin levels. 

Father LeClair denied using any church funds to fuel his addiction, but recognized that his actions "undermined your confidence in the financial stewardship of your hard-earned money."

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Jeff Forester is a writer in Minnesota. His book, Forest for the Trees: How Humans Shaped the North Woods, an ecological history of his state's famed Boundary Waters, came out in paperback in 2009. Jeff is the Executive Director of MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates MLR and you can follow him on Twitter.