Archdiocese struggles with accusations by its former canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, who has a long and accomplished history with the church.
Jennifer Haselberger was five years into her “dream job” as a canon lawyer for the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis when she alerted law enforcement officials last spring to what she believed was child pornography on a priest’s discarded computer.
Haselberger soon resigned, saying the church hierarchy ignored her entreaties to notify civil authorities. Today she is a central figure in an investigation that has engulfed the archdiocese anew in the searing issue of clergy sex abuse.
St. Paul police have said they saw no child porn among the more than 2,000 images they reviewed, leading a lawyer for the archdiocese to characterize Haselberger as “imprudent and unsophisticated.”
But those who know the 38-year-old whistleblower say she is anything but that. They describe Haselberger as savvy and fearless.
“Whoever said that about her is either a barefaced liar or they’ve never met Jennifer Haselberger. There’s nothing unsophisticated about that woman at all,” said Larry Frost, a retired Army intelligence operative turned lawyer who squared off with her in mediation over a client’s employment dispute with the church.
“My sense of her was, this was a solid, believing Catholic who had a moral compass.”
Haselberger was traveling in Asia last week and unavailable for an interview.
People who have known Haselberger since she was a teenager agree that she is a formidable intellect. Some said they were not surprised that she became the rare church insider to inspire a clergy misconduct investigation.
Although Haselberger grew up in a family with deep roots in the church, her father said she didn’t show much interest in religion until after she enrolled as an English major in what was then the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul.
The Haselbergers belonged to St. Odilia’s parish in Shoreview. Two siblings of her mother, Joanne, took religious vows. The Rev. John Maslowski had been pastor of the Church of St. Casimir in St. Paul, which ministered to local Polish immigrants, but he died before Jennifer was born. Sister Mary Joanne Maslowski, a member of the Felician Sisters in Chicago, maintained a close relationship with the family.
Jennifer’s father, Ken Haselberger, said his family dressed up and attended St. Odilia’s every Sunday, then went out to breakfast. But after Jennifer was confirmed, he said, she declared that she’d had enough and was never going to church again. “Of course, she kept going,” he added.
Outspoken at St. Catherine’s
Ken Haselberger became estranged from his family for a number of years after a bitter divorce in 1990, when Jennifer was a freshman at Mounds View High School. He remembers her as “extremely bright — always at the top of her class kind of thing,” and as a “tremendous athlete” who competed in cross country, nordic skiing and track.
“She was very competitive and very hardworking, both in school and in athletics,” her father said.
Haselberger’s sophomore year in college seems to mark a turning point for her. She told a reporter for a campus newspaper in 2009 that she had been counseled by Sister Ann Thomasine Sampson, then 82, that a person must act on her beliefs.
Haselberger, opposed to the death penalty, began writing to a death row inmate at the Louisiana State Prison in Angola and eventually became his spiritual adviser and a regular visitor to the prison.
Anne Maloney, an outspoken Catholic feminist who heads the philosophy department at what is now St. Catherine University, said she became Haselberger’s mentor after she added philosophy as a second major in her junior year.
“She was one of the smartest students I’ve ever had. The world was her oyster,” Maloney recalled.