In La Crosse, Wisconsin in 2009, a female accused a visiting Catholic priest of sexual assault. Just this week the trial of the priest came to a close when a jury returned a verdict of not guilty. For the priest and those who have supported him through this ordeal, the verdict was cause for celebration.
The woman and the priest gave conflicting stories in regards to what happened the night of the alleged sexual assault. The diocese took her accusations seriously, but failed to uncover anything to collaborate with her story. She then took it to the police who conducted their own investigation.
According to the woman, the priest made inappropriate sexual advances toward her in her car after an informal counseling session. The priest claimed that she insisted on meeting with him in the evening to discuss her marriage. He stated that she was the one who made sexual advances toward him.
The jury deliberated for four hours before reaching their decision that the priest was not guilty of sexual assault. One fact that made her story look less feasible was that she went back for another counseling session with the same priest and continued attending mass at that church.
Being charged with sexual assault is serious. Even the woman's allegations are enough to damage the priest and the church's reputation in the community. Had the priest been convicted of the crime, he would forever be branded as having sexually assaulted one of his parishioners, ruining his position in the diocese as well.
Though he was found not guilty, the visiting priest will still have to deal with suspicions from those around him. The woman's attorney maintains that she had no reason to fabricate a lie.
Source: LaCrosse Tribune online, "Priest found not guilty of assault," Annie Jungen, 27 October 2010