I am hearing concerning rumors that the investigation into the personal conduct of Archbishop Nienstedt is entering a new phase, whereby a defense attorney is being given the opportunity to question the individuals who have made complaints without those individuals having the benefit of legal counsel or an explanation of their rights in the process.

The reports I am receiving are vague at this time. However, I wanted to post this notice so that any one who receives such a summons can be prepared. I strongly encourage those individuals to seek legal help prior to responding or appearing in response to such a request. Also, I would remind them that canonical processes are often documentary in nature. If you are asked to respond to questions, you can ask that the questions be sent to you in writing, and you may respond in kind after consulting with an attorney. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, canon law is based on the civil law tradition rather than common law. As such, canonical processes are inquisitorial in nature rather than adversarial.  In a canonical process, the questioning of witnesses is entrusted to the impartial turnus selected to adjudicate the matter rather than to opposing counsel. The attorney(s) for the defendant can certainly propose questions for the turnus to ask, and can object if the turnus declines to follow a particular line of questioning, but Perry Mason-esque cross examination is not a part of the canonical process. 

It is unclear who has hired the attorney conducting this round of questioning, as well as for what purpose. It is also unclear who is paying for it. 

I would be intrigued to learn if this is a result of the (unconfirmed) visit of Bishops Piche and Cozzens to Rome at the beginning of November.

I will post additional information as I receive it. 



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    Jennifer Haselberger is a canon lawyer who served as the Chancellor for Canonical Affairs in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis until April of 2013, when she resigned in protest of the Archdiocese's handling of sexual misconduct by clergy.

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