‘It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of two mockeries of a sham.’

Canonical Consultation

Jennifer Haselberger


Or so saith Woody Allen.

Interestingly, it was this quote (and in fact the whole ‘trial scene’ from ‘Bananas’) that came to my mind earlier this weekend after a priest emailed me a question. Perhaps surprisingly, the question was not about the ‘investigation’ into Archbishop Nienstedt (although the quote would certainly be apt). Instead, the question that was posed was this: ‘Why do you think Nienstedt appointed [Father Peter] Laird as Vicar General?’

I remember my colleagues and I asking the same question in November of 2009, when it was announced that Laird would be taking over for [Bishop] Paul Sirba, who had been just appointed Bishop of Duluth. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I initially greeted Father Laird’s appointment with a cautious optimism, although that didn’t last for long. I suspect that the same was true for Archbishop Nienstedt.

Obviously, the Archbishop never unburdened himself to me as to what motivated his choice, nor am I aware of him doing so with anyone else. However, I can provide a context with which to understand the appointment, as well as to understand what would eventually transpire. I also know for a fact that Father Laird did not enjoy the level of confidence that he (and others) probably thought he did. As the person who prepared the Archbishop’s list of three (canon 413, 1), I can assure you that Father Laird was never high on that list.

In fairness to the Archbishop, it is important to note that Father Laird was also not his first choice to serve as Vicar General. Incredibly unpopular from the moment his appointment was announced, Nienstedt, as coadjutor, would watch as the ship in Saint Paul was scuttled before he could take command. Auxiliary Bishop Pates was transferred to Des Moines in the month prior to Archbishop Flynn’s retirement, and influential and well-respected priests like Bishop Peter Christensen and Bishop John LeVoir were named to lead dioceses of their own. Even lay staff members such as my predecessor and the long-time Schools staffer and Superintendent Lori Glynn would take the opportunity to depart.

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