Priest faces criminal charges in theft of church money

| October 5, 2010

HAVERHILL — The city's Catholic community was rocked this summer when the Rev. Keith LeBlanc, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church, resigned amid allegations of financial improprieties.

Many of the city's faithful hoped and prayed it would amount to nothing and that LeBlanc was innocent of any wrongdoing.

But court officials now say LeBlanc has been issued a summons to appear in Haverhill District Court on Nov. 3 to face charges of larceny over $250 by a single scheme as well as fraud.

Deputy police Chief Donald Thompson said Attorney General Martha Coakley's office had been looking into the allegations, and then decided to turn the investigation over to Haverhill police, which resulted in the charges being filed.

Boston Archdiocese spokesman Terrence Donilon declined to comment on LeBlanc's whereabouts or status with the church.

"Given there are ongoing legal proceedings, I will respectfully decline comment at this time," Donilon said.

A summons requires a person to show up court to face charges, but means they are not arrested before the court appearance.

There was no sign of unrest brewing at St. John the Baptist when in a church bulletin dated Sunday, June 13, LeBlanc told parishioners it is easy for people to judge very quickly when a person of popularity or fame has committed an offensive act.

"Are we ready to forgive them?'' LeBlanc wrote. "Are we ready to give them another chance? Can we accept their apology as really being one of sorrow? In fact, very few of us are willing to forgive unless first their is contrition, tears, and words that show that person is truly sorry."

During a 4 p.m. Mass the following Saturday, St. John the Baptist Deacon Thomas Anthony told parishioners that LeBlanc had resigned effective the previous day.

Anthony urged parishioners to pray for "Father Keith" and said the priest "is where he should be, getting the help he needs."

Anthony mentioned that he drove LeBlanc to the airport, and on the ride, spoke to him about how sometimes people are placed "on a pedestal."

Parishioners were told that LeBlanc had been escorted by Catholic Church officials to Philadelphia, where they were conducting an investigation and providing him with counseling. Parishioners were also told an audit of finances at St. John the Baptist was being conducted by the archdiocese.

LeBlanc's resignation came less than a week before St. John the Baptist was set to celebrate its 55th anniversary.

In the days following LeBlanc's resignation, Donilon said it was unlikely that LeBlanc knew about the investigation when he wrote about forgiveness in his bulletin.

Following LeBlanc's resignation, the archdiocese named the Rev. Paul Coughlin as temporary administrator, then a month later named the Rev. Robert Murray, who is pastor of St. James Church, as pastor of St. John the Baptist as well.

LeBlanc oversaw the renovation of the church basement into a parish hall in 2006. The renovations, which began in November 2005, were funded through the sale of a 2.3-acre parcel of land behind the church to Merrimack Valley Hospital for $1.2 million.

He also had air conditioning installed in the church, and instituted a 10 a.m. family Mass so that children attending CCD classes that let out at 9:55 a.m. did not have to leave the property then return. LeBlanc also expanded the altar server program to allow more members of the parish to be involved.

LeBlanc had a "late vocation" to the priesthood, having joined it late in life after having a professional career. His first assignment as a priest in Haverhill was at All Saints Church, formerly St. Joseph's Church. He became St. John's pastor on Sept. 1, 2003. LeBlanc replaced the Rev. Frederick Sweeney, who had retired as pastor of St. John the Baptist.

Sweeney was hailed by many as the priest who, along with the Rev. Dennis Nason, forced out former St. John's Rev. Ronald Paquin amid allegations of child sexual abuse.

Paquin is serving a 12- to 15-year sentence at MCI-Concord for raping a Haverhill altar boy several times. Paquin was defrocked in 2002 after admitting he was a child molester at the church in the 1980s.

Nason recently stepped down as pastor of All Saints Church after announcing he was battling cancer.

 

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