Ex-vicar general suggested Archbishop Nienstedt resign

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A former top deputy of Archbishop John Nienstedt said he suggested to the archbishop that he resign in the wake of the unfolding clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Twin Cities Catholic Church, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

The official, former vicar general Rev. Peter Laird, testified about that conversation in a May 12 deposition related to a sexual abuse case involving a priest in the archdiocese. The transcript and several video clips of Laird's deposition were released Wednesday by the plaintiff's attorney, Jeff Anderson.

Laird said in the deposition that he suggested various options to Nienstedt for responding to media reports alleging that church leaders had mishandled clergy sexual abuse cases, and one of those options was that Nienstedt could resign.

Laird himself resigned in early October, shortly after the investigation by MPR News reported that top church officials had known about the sexual misbehavior of a parish priest, yet kept him in ministry. That priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, pleaded guilty to molesting two boys and is now serving a five-year prison sentence.

“I think leaders have a responsibility to be accountable for decisions whenever they take place in an organization and — and to signal trust, and that the most important thing is that the archdiocese doesn’t have anything to hide,” said Laird in the deposition.

Laird said Nienstedt did not respond specifically to his suggestions during their conversations.

Anderson represents a plaintiff who sued the archdiocese, the Diocese of Winona and former priest Thomas Adamson, claiming that Adamson sexually abused him in the 1970s and that the archdiocese kept secret its documents related to priest abuse.

As part of the lawsuit, Anderson also deposed Nienstedt and the Rev. Kevin McDonough, who served as vicar general before Laird, and released those transcripts as well.

MPR News reports that Laird's testimony contradicts some of Nienstedt's testimony surrounding the Wehmeyer case. Laird said in his deposition that he kept Nienstedt informed of the situation as it unfolded, but Nienstedt had said under oath that he did not talk to Laird.

The Catholic Church has been under fire across the state, and the subject of some 40 lawsuits in the last year, since a new state law removed the statute of limitations for child abuse cases. The law provides a three-year window for people to sue over older cases, even for abuse that occurred decades ago.

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