Milwaukee priest, parishioners face possible excommunication

By Hillary Senour

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A Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee faces excommunication following reports of being named pastor at a non-Catholic church.

Father Dave Verhasselt, who was serving a year of prayer and penance for indirectly violating the seal of the confessional, has reportedly left the Catholic Church to become pastor at the Holy Name of Jesus Evangelical Catholic Church.

In an Aug. 9 e-mail to area clergy, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee said he was “saddened” to have to share the “difficult and painful” news of Fr. Verhasselt's dissent.

Julie Wolf, communication director for the Milwaukee archdiocese, told EWTN News Aug. 23 that Archbishop Listecki is obligated by canon law to investigate the reports that Fr. Verhasselt has left.
 
“If found to be true, Father’s choice to become a priest of the Evangelical Catholic Church separates him from the Roman Catholic Church, and would result in his immediate excommunication,” she said.

According to an Aug. 6 press release from the Evangelical Catholic Diocese of the Northwest, Fr. Verhasselt has become the pastor of a parish, Holy Name of Jesus in Ashippun, Wis.

Prior to leaving the Church, Fr. Verhasselt was at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in Oconomowoc, Wis.

Fr. Verhasselt appealed Archbishop Listecki's decree to the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith in Rome and then wrote a letter informing the archbishop he was resigning from the presbyterate.

Wolf said the archdiocese has no “concrete information” on how many members of St. Catherine's parish have decided to also leave the Catholic Church with Fr. Verhasselt.

“We really have no way of knowing this,” she said.

Should parishioners choose to follow Fr. Verhasselt out of the Catholic Church, they would also face possible excommunication.

“If someone separates themselves from the practice of their Catholic faith by virtue of participation in another faith tradition, it would be our fervent prayer they someday reunite themselves with the faith tradition of their Baptism,” Wolf said.

With 17 parishes in Ireland and the U.S., the Evangelical Catholic Church advertizes itself as a “welcoming community of faith rooted in the Catholic tradition” and was founded in 1995.

It dissents from Catholic Church teaching in several areas, allowing for married and female ordination because Catholic women “remain chained within a caste system with little hope of seeing nor experiencing any opportunities to fully realize the gift of their vocations.”

Citing its “unconditional inclusification of our catholic sacramental and spiritual life,” the Evangelical Catholic Church says on its website that it welcomes same-sex couples “to embrace their vocation to the Sacrament of Marriage” if at least one of them is Catholic.

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