The Catholic University of America

Alumni Relations

Rev. Juan-Diego Brunetta, O.P., J.C.L. 2001, J.C.D. 2003, ecclesiastical judge for the Archdiocese of New York

   
 


We asked this month's spotlight a few questions. Below are his answers.

AR: Tell us a little bit about yourself.


JB: I am from Vineland, N.J. (that's in South Jersey!) and am the eldest of four boys born
to Jackie and Mario Brunetta. Because of my mother's own Catholic education, she
insisted that we boys have the benefit of a Catholic education. Upon my graduation from 
The Catholic University of America in 2003, I completed my 26th year of Catholic schooling! Because of the strong emphasis placed on service to others during my education, when I graduated with my B.S. in biology (from some other Catholic university), I volunteered to
teach high school science in American Samoa for three years with the Marist Brothers. Although I had never lived more than 40 miles from where I was born, the experience of
traveling half-way around the world infected me with wanderlust. To this day, I jump at every opportunity I get to travel someplace new and experience new peoples and cultures (and foods!). If I could only find a job or ministry that paid me to do this, I would be set (any of
you other alums hiring?). I joined the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) in 1995 and was
ordained a priest in 2001. It was during my time assigned to the Dominican House of
Studies across Michigan Avenue that I studied canon law with the CUA faculty. Presently, I am the prior of the Dominican community of St. Catherine of Siena on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and work for His Eminence Cardinal Timothy
Dolan, M.A. 1981, Ph.D. 1985, in the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of New York.

AR: Can you tell us about your career path? How did you get started?


JB: My path to the priesthood was long and winding, beginning when I was a 19-year old, lukewarm, on-again-off-again
worshiping university student who woke one Sunday morning with the notion in my head that God wanted me to be one of
His priests. This was news to me, my girlfriend, and my pre-med adviser! And while it resulted in my girlfriend dumping me,
and me never taking the MCAT's to apply to med school, it still took me another eight years to finally enter the seminary.
Although I was initially studying to be a diocesan priest, I was always attracted to religious life. While on a mid-term
break from the seminary, I visited the Dominican House of Studies for a Vocation Weekend. It was like coming home; and
I knew that God was calling me to a life with the friars. A year later I entered the novitiate and I have never looked back.


AR: What is it like to be an ecclesiastical judge for the Archdiocese of New York? What are your responsibilities?


JB: The work of an ecclesiastical judge is to be at the service of justice in the Church. Much of the work I do with my
colleagues involves Petitions for Declarations of Invalidity of Marriage (a.k.a. annulments). While there might be some
jaded views on this ministry in the Church, I have always seen my role as one of upholding and supporting the dignity
of marriage. As such, I spend most days assisting petitioners to come to an understanding about the truth of their
marriages. Sometimes this results in a marriage being declared invalid, and sometimes it does not. Another smaller
part of my work involves clerical penal trials. In the case of clergy who have been accused of violating their sacred
trust and ministries in some way, the Church's law requires that trials be conducted in order to determine innocence
or guilt and to impose penalties as appropriate. Ecclesiastical judges are responsible for conducting these trials, as
well.


AR: What is a typical day at work like for you?

JB: A typical day at the tribunal would include personally deposing petitioners, respondents, and witnesses; meeting
with other judges to consider the cases on our dockets; and penning of judgments. In between these scheduled
events of the day, we judges give canonical counsel in response to the inquiries that come from all over the
archdiocese regarding any sort of canonical matter. I must admit, it is this "unscheduled" part of the day that I find
truly stimulating as it requires that I be able to draw from the entire body of canon law that I studied at CUA and helps
to keep me well-read on many and varied areas of the law that I do not normally practice each day.

AR: What is the most interesting event or person that you have come across in your line of work?


JB: The confidentiality of the tribunal prevents me from naming any persons (famous or otherwise) that I may have
met in my work. But outside of my work? Well, this is New York City, and all you need to do is stand on the street
corner long enough and the whole world will eventually pass by!

AR: When you are not working as an ecclesiastical judge, what do you like to do?


JB: When I am not at the tribunal, my days are taken up with the life of the Dominican community that looks to me
for leadership. Religious life has its struggles, as do all states of life and vocations, but I can honestly say that life
with my Dominican brethren is one of my greatest blessings. However, in my private time while walking on the treadmill,
I enjoy reading crime novels and watching the "new" Dr. Who reruns!

AR: How did Catholic University prepare you for your current career? Any specific courses that you took or experiences you had while a student? Were there any specific faculty members who mentored you?


JB: As it has the only pontifical faculty of canon law in the United States, The Catholic University of America provided me the
opportunity to study canon law in English in an educational system and environment that was both familiar and intellectually
challenging. The canon law faculty at CUA is comprised of world-class scholars and professors who have the respect of
the entire canonical community. Although I presently practice marriage and penal law, my area of concentration at CUA
was religious law (i.e., law for consecrated persons). In this regard, I was directed in my license and doctoral work by
Sister Rose McDermott, S.S.J., J.C.B. 1976, J.C.L. 1977, J.C.D. 1979. Sister Rose is a member of the religious community
that taught my brothers and me from 1st through 12th grades, and it was she who was my great support through my
canonical studies. In a very real way, the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Pa. "encapsulated" the entirety of my
formal education: they received me in the first grade and 26 academic years later they walked with me on the CUA Mall to
receive my doctorate. Way to go, Sisters of Saint Joseph!

AR: Do you keep in touch with other friends or classmates from CUA? If so, how? Who in particular?


JB: One of my great friends and classmates from CUA is Father Gareth Jones, J.C.L. 2002, J.C.D., a priest of Cardiff (Wales),
U.K. Despite the fact that we are separated by the Atlantic Ocean, Father Jones and I have had the great fortune to be able
to collaborate on several canonical projects in the U.S. and the U.K. Every visit with Father Gareth finds us reminiscing
fondly in some way about our days at CUA.

AR: What is one of your favorite memories of your time at Catholic University?


JB: My favorite memory of CUA is my daily commute to the campus. I would walk out of the front doors of the Dominican
House of Studies, weave through the rush-hour traffic on Michigan Avenue (because I was too lazy to go to the traffic
light), and walk up the side of the Basilica to Caldwell Hall. Day after day, season after season, the beauty and the life
of the CUA Mall would open up to me as I passed the side of Gibbons Hall. From sunbathers, to football players, to
snowball fighters, to serious crammers before a final, The Catholic University of America was home to us all, always
reminding us that "Deus Lux Mea Est!"

 


















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