Priest on leave following alleged confession violation

A Catholic priest in Wisconsin was placed on administrative leave while the Archdiocese of Milwaukee investigates a claim that he violated the seal of confession.

The Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported on Tuesday that Fr. David Verhasselt was removed from his pastoral duties at St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in the town Oconomowoc, Wisconsin by Archbishop Jerome Listecki on Monday. The archdiocese's tribunal is currently conducting a preliminary investigation.

CNA contacted the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for more information on the details of the case and received a general statement from Archbishop Listecki.

“Every priest has a most serious obligation to maintain absolute confidentiality regarding what is confessed to him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation,” wrote the archbishop on April 14. “A sacred trust is established between a priest and a penitent and the integrity of the Sacrament relies upon this trust.”

“This 'seal of confession' is so absolute that any allegation about its violation is taken very seriously and a complete investigation is required by Church law,” he added.  

“During this investigation we support and care for Father Verhasselt, while making sure the teaching and laws of the Church are respected and obeyed. Most importantly, we want to extend our pastoral care to the people of St. Catherine’s Parish during this difficult time,” Archbishop Listecki's statement concluded.

Deacon David Zimprich of St. Catherine’s, who is filling in as much as possible until an interim priest is appointed, said on Tuesday that parishioners are distressed.

“He's their shepherd, they love him,” Deacon Zimprich told the Journal Sentinel. “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.”

Fr. Verhasselt, 62, was ordained a priest in 1989 and was named pastor at St. Catherine’s in 2000.

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