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.