The Congregation can take six months to several years to make its determination, Beal said. If the Congregation decides there should be a trial — either in Rome or in a diocese — the proceeding is typically delayed until any related civil or criminal action is concluded.
The trial itself can be a protracted affair, unfolding “in bits and pieces” over weeks, months, or even years rather than days, as most trials in the US legal system do, Beal said. Witnesses are called as they are available; the church has no subpoena power.
All motions and objections are argued and decided in writing, which Beal said “prolongs the thing indefinitely” and can be used effectively by the defense as a delaying tactic.
“If you think of every time you’ve been to a trial and the defense attorney stands up and says, ‘Objection,’ imagine that taking place in writing,” Beal said.
The archdiocese, in a statement about the reasons for the backlog, also cited “an appeals process that can be accessed by both the prosecution and defense, as well a number of procedural appeals, all of which can take a number of years, given the limited number of canon lawyers.”
The tribunal’s verdict must be affirmed by Rome. Either party may appeal the results, which can result in an entirely new trial.
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