Top deputy of archdiocese resigns amidst scandal

7:13 AM, Oct 4, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The top deputy of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis resigned his post Thursday as concerns grow over the church's approach to sex abuse cases involving clergy.

The Rev. Peter Laird explained his sudden departure as vicar general in a statement posted on the archdiocese's website Thursday afternoon.

"Over the last few years, this Archdiocese has made significant progress in many areas, including how we have strengthened policies and practices regarding clergy misconduct," Laird said in the statement. "I am hopeful my decision to step aside at this time, along with the formation of a new task force can help repair the trust of many, especially the victims of abuse."

Archdiocese leaders, staff and priests, he added, "are sincerely committed to proactively addressing these difficult issues."

Laird was identified in a Sept. 23 MPR News story detailing how the archdiocese knew of the sexual misbehavior of a priest, Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer, yet kept him in the ministry.

MPR reported that Laird received a key 2011 memo on the allegations against Wehmeyer, who later pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two boys, ages 12 and 14, and possessing child pornography.

A judge sentenced Wehmeyer to five years in prison, a term he is now serving.

Following the MPR News story, a group representing people who have been abused by priests called for a criminal investigation of the archdiocese regarding Wehmeyer.

On Thursday, Attorney Jeff Anderson called Laird's resignation an "unprecedented" but insufficient move by the archdiocese in response to allegations of abuse.

"The resignation of Vicar General Laird is only just a gesture. That means they are obviously aware something needed to be done, and somebody needed to fall. And they chose him to be the one," said Anderson, the St. Paul attorney who's filed lawsuits on behalf of thousands of victims of sexual abuse across the country.

Anderson said a grand jury should be convened and evidence should be seized from the archdiocese.

Laird, who was a rising star within the archdiocese, was named vicar general in October 2009 at age 43. Before that, he served as vice rector of the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. Besides degrees in theology, he also holds a law degree from the University of Wisconsin, according to his archdiocese biography.

"Father Laird's decision to resign was unexpected and was his decision alone," said Archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso. "He did nothing improper. This is an opportunity for a fresh start in leadership."

MPR requested an interview with Laird but he was not available

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