Former Twin Cities vicar general leaves the priesthood

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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A former vicar general of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese who resigned early in the region’s three-year-plus clergy sexual abuse scandal, has now left the priesthood altogether.

Peter Laird in January was granted by Pope Francis a “request for laicization,” or dispensation from the obligations of the clerical state, according to a March 10 statement from Twin Cities Archbishop Bernard Hebda. Laird had made the request in January 2014. This May would have marked his 20th anniversary of his ordination. 

“While his priestly ministry will be missed by many, I am hopeful that Pope Francis’ decision will allow Peter to serve out his baptismal calling in new ways,” Hebda said.

Laird had not been in public priestly ministry since his withdrawal from it in late 2013. That October, Laird stepped down as vicar general and moderator of the curia in the wake of news reports that the archdiocese had mishandled allegations child sexual abuse by diocesan priests.

In the three years since then, the scandal has witnessed two bishops resign, the archdiocese file for bankruptcy reorganization, the subsequent selling of the chancery, and criminal charges brought, and eventually settled, against the archdiocese, along with numerous committees and investigations.

More: “Former chancellor: Twin Cities archdiocese 'far, far from best practice' on abuse (July 15, 2014)

According to a deposition he gave attorney Jeff Anderson in May 2014, Laird said that he resigned as vicar general — a position he had held since November 2009 — in an effort to re-establish trust in archdiocesan leadership, and “as a step that I thought needed to be taken to demonstrate to our various constituents, especially people who have been abused by priests … that the most important thing was going to be able to move forward in a way that would be transparent and that would be accountable.”

It was also Laird, a trained civil lawyer, who twice advised then-Archbishop John Nienstedt to resign himself.

“I do think that leaders should consider how they continue to lead and sometimes leadership leads by being accountable and offering a resignation,” Laird said in his deposition.

Nienstedt eventually resigned June 15, 2015, along with Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche, 10 days after the Ramsey County prosecutor brought criminal charges against the archdiocese related to its handling of sexual abuse allegations brought against former priest Curtis Wehmeyer. Those charges were dropped a year later as part of a civil settlement.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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