Bless Me Father…Now Please Don’t Blab


From today’s Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel:

A priest may face excommunication for breaking the seal of confession. A snip:

Archbishop Jerome Listecki relieved Father David Verhasselt of his duties as pastor at St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in the Town of Oconomowoc on Monday, based on a preliminary investigation by the archdiocese’s tribunal, according to the archdiocese.

Verhasselt could face a local or Vatican trial and excommunication if he is found to have intentionally violated the canon law provision that prohibits priests from divulging what takes place in the sacrament of confession. But Father Paul Hartmann, judicial vicar for the archdiocese, called that a worst-case scenario.

“The recommendation is always that the penalty be commensurate with the gravity and the damage done,” Hartmann said Tuesday.

Deacon David Zimprich, who is filling in at St. Catherine’s until an interim priest can be appointed, said Tuesday that parishioners were devastated by the news.

“He’s their shepherd, they love him,” said Zimprich, who serves as the archdiocese’s coordinator of deacon services. “All we can tell people to do is to keep him in their prayers, and that maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe it was just a misunderstanding.”

Archdiocese officials declined to comment on the content or circumstances surrounding the alleged breach, but Hartmann said the church had no choice but to act “when there’s the possibility of connecting a penitent with a particular sin.”

Verhasselt, 62, was ordained in 1989 and spent six years as administrator at St. Catherine’s before being named pastor in 2000. He could not be reached for comment.

The last time a local priest faced an allegation of breaking the confessional seal was 1983. In that case, Father Arthur J. Baertlein of St. Catherine Alexandria Catholic Church, 8661 N. 76th Place, recounted information divulged during a confession in a sermon about absolution. Although he did not identify the penitent, he told parishioners that he had withheld absolution from her because she was living with a man to whom she was not married, according to news accounts at the time.

Unbelievable. And we wonder why nobody trusts priests these days.

It only takes one bad apple to make the whole tree seem rotten. Coupled with the sex abuse stuff it must be really hard to be a priest these days.

Today, let’s pray for priests who serve their people well and who face a stigma that they don’t deserve.

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6 Comments

  1. “Unbelievable. And we wonder why nobody trusts priests these days.” Easy there cowboy. Don’t generalize!

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  2. OK–when I say “nobody” I mean people who don’t have a huge relationship with their parish or priests in general. But I also mean the “average Catholic” who goes to mass and wants to believe, but doubts because they don’t have a spiritual mentor nor time to explore their faith as much as they’d like. This might be over 90% of registered and non-registered mass attendees BTW.

    It doesn’t take much to get those folks to choose something else. They’re barely here to begin with.

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  3. It’s not surprising how quickly people rush to judgment, especially in this climate of distrust of catholic priests. Accusation does not equal guilt. I personally know Fr. Dave and this truly seems unlikely. Unless there is damning evidence I would urge people to just settle down – it isn’t our place to pass judgment anyhow. At least that is what I was taught in my Catholic upbringing…

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  4. Don’t be so judgmental. I belong to St. Catherine’s church and am a huge supporter for Father Dave. This investigation does not change my level of respect for him or for the work that he does for our church. Father Dave is an outstanding spiritual advisor and church leader.

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    1. I’m glad you are supporting your priest. It takes a lot of guts to do that. But if this is true, it’s horrendous.

      I pray that the truth will show itself and he will be exonerated but if he’s not he should be punished harshly.

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  5. So, it has now been about 18 months since Father David Verhasselt was removed from the community of St. Catherine’s in Mapleton Wisconsin. It is now October of 2011 and we have yet to hear any news of the outcome. The congregation of St. Catherine still misses their Pastor desperately and continues to pray for his re installation. There has been a Canonical hearing with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee back in July of 2011 and now we are told there is no timeline as to if or when the parish will hear anything anytime soon. It is known, and widely believed that this accusation comes from a former disgruntled employee of St. Catherine’s who had serious issues with Fr. Dave’s way of doing things. This person didn’t grasp the reality that the Pastor of a parish is the boss and has the final say in what happens within the Community. This person seemed to have a “power” complex and wanted to be in charge of everything with no respect what so ever to what the Pastor wanted.
    That resulted in Civil lawsuits against the Pastor and the parish community which were all dismissed both from the State of Wisconsin and from the Federal courts, and now this Canonical process against the Priest which is still being investigated. This case has nothing at all to do with sexual abuse what so ever. It is known that the parish community still continues to pray fervently for an end to this and has hope against hope for their Pastor’s return. It is also widely known that there is another area priest who has had a axe to grind with Father Verhasselt for years , and because of this it is very much believed by many that somehow this Priest is equally involved in the destruction of Father Verhasselt’s credibility. If this is found to be true, it would seem that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee needs to work very hard at mending fences within, before it can be a sign of healing and peace to the people in the pews that Archdiocese serves.

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