In all the media hype surrounding the sex abuse scandal, haters of the Church have wondered if that scandal could destroy the Church and the priesthood. The short answer is no, but a scandal like this one could. (Not destroy permanently, of course. Nothing could do that.)
Father David Verhasselt, a priest in the parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in the diocese of Milwaukee, has been placed on administrative leave because he is under investigation for breaking the seal of confession.
The charge is so serious that Archbishop Jerome Listecki has even barred Fr. Verhasselt from visiting the church.
According to local news in Milwaukee
“The allegation itself has internal credibility and has reason for us to look into it further,” said Father Paul Hartmann, judicial vicar for the archdiocese.
Church leaders said they became aware of the accusations “months ago.” Verhasselt says he was not aware he was under investigation until Monday.
Fr. Verhasselt denies the charge saying “I’m innocent, I’m shocked at the charges. That’s definitely not me.”
I hope so. To have a priest break the seal of confession so greatly damages the trust placed in the priest and in the sacrament; the ramifications are hard to imagine. If a potential penitent cannot trust that his confession will stay private and chooses to stay in sin rather than risk exposure through confession, that is a scandal the could destroy the priesthood and potentially souls.
Archbishop Listecki has done the right thing to suspend the priest while the investigation continues. This is too important and delicate a matter to seem to be siding with the priest. If there is even an inkling that the charge may be true, the Archbishop had no choice.
I pray that the priest is innocent. This is a potential scandal that could really embolden the enemies of the church and undercut already shaky trust.