Monday, September 3, 2012

When Churches Stalk Ex-Members

It seems that the sin and illness of stalking and bullying have found a new home within some church denominations.

Permit me to begin with this theory: Membership within any Church body is a personal and private decision. There are no civil or church laws which states that individuals are bound to lifetime membership. Thus, if any individuals feels compelled to join another Church to continue their spiritual journey - they are free to do so.

Like any pastor, I rejoice when anyone joins the Evangelical Catholic Church and I am saddened when someone elects to go elsewhere and when someone chooses to move elsewhere I must respect their decision and wish them Godspeed.

Apparently, not all within the pastoral community seems to share this belief.

This past August, the Evangelical Catholic Diocese of the Northwest accepted a candiate for Clerical Incardination. This is when a priest from another jurisdiction desires to transfer their priesthood to us. In this particular case, Father David Verhasselt elected to come to the Evangelical Catholic Church from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee. After choosing to become a member of the Evangelical Catholic Church, the Diocese, after fully reviewing Father's records, according him the opportunity to begin the one-year process of incardination and granted him faculities to establish Holy Name of Jesus Evangelical Catholic Church is Wisconsin.

Let me state for the record that in transferring his personal membership to the Evangelical Catholic Church, Father David resigned as priest and member of the Roman Catholic Church and Archdiocese of Milwaukee before he was canonically received into our jurisdiction on August 4th, 2012. On August 10th, 2012, I sent a letter to Archbishop Jerome Listecki requesting a official copy of Father David's records.

Despite Father David's resignation from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and my letter to Archbishop Listecki, one would surmise that the Archdiocese would accept facts and simply say goodbye to Father David and wish him Godspeed.

Sadly, the response and reaction of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has been one of stalking and bullying.

Prior to becoming a member of the Evangelical Catholic Diocese of the Northwest, Father David had been a profoundly sucessful priest and pastor. After announcing plans to establish Holy Name of Jesus Evangelical Catholic Church, Father David found over 100 families interested in coming and supporting this new parish. Once the address of our new parish was announced, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee had one of their highest ranking officials contact those who were willing to provide us worship space and ask them to resind their decision.

If that action wasn't regretable enough, a number of strange items began to appear in the media.

On August 23rd, 2012, reporter Tracy Rusch of the Catholic Herald, the official newpaper of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee wrote an article "Former pastor allegedly leaves Roman Catholic Church." In her article, Ms. Rusch wrote that "Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki is investigating an allegation that Fr. David Verhasselt, former pastor of St. Catherine Parish in Mapleton, is leaving the Roman Catholic Church to become a priest in the Evangelical Catholic Church." Ms. Rusch also quoted Archbishp Listecki saying that “If 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.”

Remembering my own studies of the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church, I do not remember it ever stating that the Roman Church can excommuniate a former member.

I was further amazed when Ms. Rusch quoted Ms. Zabrina Decker, tribunal chancellor and canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Despite all of the communicatuion from Father David and my own letter to Archbishop Listecki, Ms. Decker stated that "a priest can’t resign from the presbyterate, so Fr. Verhasselt is still on administrative leave and his appeal is still pending in Rome."

Sounds like China's attitude and posture towards Taiwan.

In addition to that which appeared in the Catholic Herald, Ms. Julie Wolf of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee gave a more dramatic interview with EWTN reporter Hillary Senour. Ms. Senour's story was published under the headline "MILWAUKEE PRIEST & PARISHONERS FACE POSSIBLE EX-COMMUNICATION"

Permit me to share some of the points of Ms. Senour's story.

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

Father Dave Verhasselt 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.

I am profoundly saddened that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee would play the excommunication card against anyone who visits Holy Name of Jesus Parish. To me, it seems that the bottom line for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee isn't that Father David excardinated from them - it is that members of the laity are choosing to celebrate Mass at Holy Name of Jesus. I seriously doubt that 200 people visiting Holy Name of Jesus will bring about the end of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Stalking and bullying the laity is not what builds up the Kingdom of God on Earth.

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