WAUKESHA -- Father Chuck Hanel made his initial appearance in Waukesha County court on Monday, Oct. 15 -- charged with second degree sexual assault of a child. A $10,000 signature bond was set, and Hanel was ordered not to have any unsupervised contact with any child under 18 while his case moves forward.
Fr. Hanel, a priest at Queen of Apostles Catholic Church in Pewaukee, is accused of inappropriately touching a 13-year-old girl during confession. Hanel remains on administrative leave until the case is resolved.
"I am dumbfounded and heartbroken to be accused of harming a child. I have never hurt or abused a minor in my over 35 years of priesthood, nor have I ever contemplated doing so. In the meantime, as this process plays out, I will continue to pray for my accuser and her family every day -- and, even though I am innocent of this crime," Hanel said to reporters after his court appearance on Monday.
There was a group of parishioners in the courtroom -- to show their support for Hanel.
"It really makes me feel stronger that so many people are supporting me and believe in me," Hanel said.
Father Chuck Hanel
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."
Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Pewaukee
Queen of Apostles Catholic Church
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.
If convicted on the sexual assault charge, Hanel faces up to 40 years in prison and $100,000 in fines. Hanel is due in court for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 30.