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August 2014

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Ousted priest finds home with new church

Rev. Verhasselt to serve at Ashippun Evangelical Church

Town of Ashippun - The Rev. David Verhasselt, the former pastor of St. Catherine of Alexander Catholic Church has found a new pastoral role outside the realm of the Roman Catholic Church.

Verhasselt was placed on leave from St. Catherine's after a lengthy church investigation found him guilty of indirectly violating the seal of confession.

Verhasselt will now pastor a startup church in Ashippun within the Evangelical Catholic Church's northwest diocese, which is not under papal mandate.

The Evangelical Catholic Church (ECC) offers several pastoral reforms on hot-button societal issues that have long been matters of contention for many within the Roman Catholic Church.

Verhasselt celebrated the first Mass on Aug. 4 for the new church, named The Holy Name of Jesus Evangelical Catholic Church, which is currently sharing space with Zion Lutheran Church in Ashippun.

"Eventually, it would be nice to have our own place, but that will be up to the community. We're just getting started at this point," said ECC Bishop James Wilkowski.

"After it gets a chance to take root better, then we will see what the needs are," he added.

About 200 people attended the inaugural service.

"Given the amount of support for Father Dave, I wasn't surprised at the number," Wilkowski noted.

Verhasselt, a much-beloved pastor from the Town of Oconomowoc parish, was initially placed on leave in 2010 pending an investigation into the claim that he violated the seal of confession.

It was 2012 before the verdict and sentence, a year in prayer and penance, was handed down.

Verhasselt, who declined to comment for this article, will celebrate Mass at 5 p.m. Saturdays in Ashippun.

"We're really in the initial organizing period right now. Father Dave will also be responding to all pastoral needs: weddings, funerals, etc.," Wilkowski explained.

The bishop said the parish came about out of a need for people who wanted to continue receiving pastoral care and having Mass celebrated and the sacraments available.

"We are a welcoming community rooted in the Catholic tradition. There are a lot of people throughout the United States who are pastorally orphaned. This parish can reach out to those people and create a sacramental home for them," he said.

How ECC differs

The bishop said the ECC and the Roman Catholic Church are similar.

"There really aren't many differences," he said.

However, the distinctions that do exist are significant.

"The differences are the priesthood is open to women and married clergy. Vocationally, everyone has equal playing field. One of the biggest reforms was for people whose marriages failed; the annulment process has been radically addressed and reconstructed," Wilkowski explained.

"Our community permits families to do responsible family planning in consultation with their doctors," he said.

He said the ECC is committed to welcoming all people, regardless of sexual orientation.

"As with many churches, that has long been settled for us for many, many years. We have inclusified all the sacraments," he said.

The ECC believes the same seven sacraments as the Roman Catholic Church: baptism, reconciliation, communion, confirmation, marriage, holy orders and the anointing of the sick.

"We have neither added nor subtracted," the Bishop noted.

He said there are fewer than 10,000 members of the ECC across the United States. They have about 50 clergy members.

"That makes it very difficult. We need vocations," he said, offering a sentiment shared by many organized religions.

The bishop said the church is happy to add Verhasselt to the fold.

"We are very, very pleased that Father Dave came aboard with us," Wilkowski said.

"He contacted my office, and we visited a couple of times. I was advised as to what transpired in his life," he explained.

After investigating Verhasselt's record, the ECC found him to be "a delightful addition to our diocese. We're very glad to have someone with 20 years of pastoral experience come on board," Wilkowski said.

Wilkowski said the church plans to add a parish website soon.

"He (Verhasselt) will be very easy to contact. Anyone in need of pastoral care will not have any trouble reaching him," Wilkowski said.

"We're very humbled that the community has asked us to provide pastoral care to them, and we're very pleased Father Dave has joined us," he said.

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