Pewaukee priest once accused of sexual assault of a minor free to return to church
By Elliot Hughes
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 01, 2020
A Pewaukee priest whose sexual assault of a minor case ended with a mistrial and then dropped charges is being allowed to return to work at his church, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee announced Saturday.
The announcement comes after the archdiocese says it completed its own investigation into the allegations against the Rev. Charles Hanel, 63, and determined they were unsubstantiated and false. He will be restored to the ministry effective Monday and will be allowed to resume his role of pastor at Queen of Apostles Church in Pewaukee.
Hanel was charged with second-degree sexual assault of a then-13-year-old girl in a church confessional in December 2017. In March 2020, Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Maxwell declared a mistrial after it became public that the girl’s mother is an undocumented immigrant trying to gain legal status to stay in the U.S.
Hanel's attorneys argued the alleged victim likely fabricated the accusation to help her mother gain legal immigration status. But Assistant District Attorney Michael Thurston argued that disclosing her undocumented status added credibility to her testimony because she was risking deportation by exposing that fact.
In June, Thurston filed a letter dismissing the charges against Hanel “out of a consideration of the amount of strain that a future trial will place on all parties, most importantly the victim and her family.”
In a letter released Saturday, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said the archdiocese hired an independent investigator to examine the allegation once criminal charges were dropped. Those results were then reviewed by the Diocesan Review Board, which recommended Hanel be restored to the ministry.
The archdiocese did not immediately identify the independent investigator or the members of the review board when asked by the Journal Sentinel on Saturday.
“The Archdiocese of Milwaukee takes any report of clergy sexual abuse of a minor very seriously, as did Fr. Hanel, who agreed to step aside as your pastor to allow for a thorough investigation,” Listecki wrote.