WAUKESHA -- The jury trial began Monday, March 9 for a Pewaukee priest accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. The courtroom was packed as jury selection got underway Monday, with some seated in the hallway during the proceedings.
Father Charles Hanel served at Queen of Apostles Catholic Church in Pewaukee. He's accused of inappropriately touching a 13-year-old girl during confession, and faces one count of sexual assault of a child under 16.
According to the criminal complaint, the alleged crime in this case happened on Dec. 17, 2017. The alleged victim, who was 13 years old at the time, told authorities that while attending Reconciliation at Queen of Apostles, Father Hanel had inappropriate contact with her in a confessional. The girl told investigators that "she feels Fr. Hanel looks at her in a different way than the other girls...making her feel uncomfortable."
The complaint indicates Father Hanel had been on a scheduled church sabbatical from January through April of this year. When hearing of the priest's return to the parish, the alleged victim expressed outward anxiety. She eventually told her parents what had happened in December. She said "Father Hanel was 'creepy' and 'weird'" -- and "I want to go to a different church."
The girl's parents immediately informed a visiting priest at the parish about the accusations. That priest reported the matter to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department and Waukesha County's Child Protective Services Unit.
According to the criminal complaint, Hanel, 61, was confronted on May 24 about the allegation of sexual contact with the 13-year-old girl. He denied having the contact -- and said "the only contact that ever occurs with children is when he lays his hands on their heads during the final prayer. Father Hanel indicated that he always performs the confession this way and that he never deviates from it." Hanel also stated to investigators, "If something like that would have happened, I would remember it, and I would not have done something like that accidentally, either. I just wouldn't do that. The sign of the cross is done a foot away from the person. There is no way that I would accidentally touch someone while I was doing that and I would never do that."
Hanel has been with the Pewaukee church since 2014. He was placed on administrative leave in early 2019 after the allegations surfaced.