Mistrial Declared in Case against Accused Abuser in Wisconsin
A mistrial was declared in the case of a Wisconsin Catholic priest who has been accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl. This mistrial was only declared because attorneys for the cleric were able to sway the judge with irrelevant arguments about the immigration status of the victim’s mother. We hope that prosecutors will retry this case and help protect children in Wisconsin.
It may be a shrewd defense maneuver to blame the victim – or in this case, the victim's mother – but just because the tactic works does not mean that it is a good or an appropriate one. We are dismayed that the mother of this victim was smeared publicly by the defense attorneys in this case. This is a disturbing tactic that argued the case not on its merits, but with completely irrelevant information. We are saddened that this legal maneuver was successful, but are hopeful that District Attorney Sue Opper will retry the case against Fr. Charles Hanel.
The abuse of any individual is awful, but particularly so when the victim is extremely vulnerable. An undocumented family is as vulnerable as a family can get. The vast majority of abuse allegations are true, and the accuser in this case showed tremendous courage in coming forward, as did the mother who stood by her daughter’s side, knowing that her undocumented status would likely be attacked. To us, these are the actions of a protective mother, not someone trying to game an immigration system.
A mistrial does not mean the accused is innocent, so we call on Archbishop Jerome Listecki of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to keep Fr. Hanel suspended while this case continues to move through the court system. We also call on Attorney General Josh Kaul to closely monitor this case and step in if he does not believe that the case is being treated with the seriousness it deserves.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)