Albany

‘A watershed revelation,’ says attorney of released deposition by retired Albany bishop

This photo from Wednesday Feb. 25, 2004, shows Bishop Howard Hubbard swinging incense during an Ash Wednesday communion service at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. (AP Photo/Jim McKnight, File)
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This photo from Wednesday Feb. 25, 2004, shows Bishop Howard Hubbard swinging incense during an Ash Wednesday communion service at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. (AP Photo/Jim McKnight, File)

ALBANY — Attorneys for Child Victims Act clients who are suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany have commended the release of a deposition of now-retired Bishop Howard Hubbard as a historical moment in holding diocese officials accountable for covering up decades of sexual abuse.

On Friday, the 680-page deposition of Hubbard, now 83, was released by a state Supreme Court justice in Albany County, despite Hubbard’s earlier efforts to have the transcript sealed.

The deposition confirms the efforts by Hubbard and the diocese to conceal numerous incidents of sexual abuse during his tenure at the helm of the 14-county district from 1977 until his retirement in 2014. He was questioned over four days in April 2021 by attorneys for dozens of individuals who allege that they were sexually abused by priests or others associated with the Albany Diocese.

“Bishop Hubbard’s testimony reveals decades of decadence, denial and deception at the peril of so many innocent, trusting children, in his own words,” according to a statement from Jeff Anderson, one of the attorneys for an alleged victim who sought the release of the deposition.

The deposition was released to the public after the law firm said one of the alleged victims of Father Gary Mercure sought to have the transcript made public following an Aug. 13, 2021, op-ed in the Albany Times Union written by Hubbard. That date was the last day for victims to file lawsuits under New York’s Child Victims Act, according to a joint press release from Anderson and Cynthia LaFave, who also represents the alleged victim in the case.

“Bishop Hubbard’s self-serving statements in his op-ed directly contradicted his sworn testimony, understated his longstanding knowledge of the high rate of recidivism among offenders and the severe impacts of sexual abuse on the survivors, and minimized his role in perpetuating child sexual abuse in his Diocese over the course of nearly four decades,” according to the press release.

According to transcripts, Hubbard stated under oath that he was aware of reported sexual abuse and sent the priests who committed the abuse to treatment facilities before allowing them to return to churches. 

“I’m only hesitating because I know that I dealt directly with 11 cases between 1977 and 2002,” Hubbard said in the depositions. “I’m not sure I can give them to you in sequential order because I don’t have any file like that in front of me.”

Following that statement, Hubbard discussed the sexual abuse instances he knew about. 

One of them included Father David Bentley. Hubbard said he was contacted by the Commissioner of Social Services in the area where Bentley was serving about an individual who was being abused by the pastor. 

“And what did you do?” asked Anderson in the deposition. 

“Met with him, and he admitted that he had engaged in this behavior, and he was sent for treatment,” Hubbard said. 

“And how many kids did he admit to having sexually abused?” Anderson said. 

“I was only aware of the one, and that is what I confronted him with,” Hubbard replied. 

Hubbard went on to state that although he had heard Bentley admit to the abuse, he did not report it to the police because he was not a mandated reporter. 

“I don’t think the law then or even now requires me to do it,” he said. “Would I do it now? Yes. But did I do it then? No.”

He said he never reported the instances because he knew they’re were scandalous and that they could have hurt the priesthood. 

Hubbard admitted in the deposition that parishioners were never fully made aware of why priests were removed when they were sent to treatment.

“Is it correct, Bishop, to say that of the priests that we talked about, when you returned them to ministry — excuse me — when you removed them from ministry for sexual abuse and sent them to treatment, the reason you gave to the parishioners where you removed the offender from, you disguised the real reason for the removal, is that correct?” Anderson asked. 

“I’m not comfortable with the word disguised, but we didn’t reveal fully why the person was removed,” Hubbard answered. 

Anderson went on to ask whether it was correct that the bishop concealed the truth. 

“We could say a priest went away for health reasons, and that is not untruthful, but it is not the full truth,” Hubbard said. 

Hubbard also said that the diocese kept not only personnel files on priests but secret files. 

“Well, the files contain more than just abuse of minors,” Hubbard said. “There was other things, complaints that people had made about a priest, about maybe alcohol, about maybe how finances were being handled and so forth. So there was more than just material in the 12 that dealt with the abuse of minors.”

Hubbard, who was with the Albany diocese for 37 years, faces his own lawsuits for allegedly sexually abusing minors over the decades. Hubbard has denied the accusations, according to the release. He officially retired as bishop in 2014, though he remained with the Diocese as bishop emeritus for several years until accusations of his own sexual misconduct forced him to step down completely.

“When the first case came forward accusing him of sexual misconduct, he offered to [current] Bishop [Edward] Scharfenberger to take leave from active ministry, which was accepted, and he remains on leave,” said Kevin Keenan, the interim director of communications for the diocese. “Bishop Hubbard has no involvement in the administration of the Diocese” today.

Keenan said the diocese is focused on helping survivors find the truth. 

“The wounds persist, the accompaniment continues, the denial and cover up does not,” he said.

He said the diocese takes allegations of abuse seriously. 

As bishop of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese, Hubbard oversaw the churches in a sprawling 14-county area in eastern New York.

“The Diocese has and continues to resolve pending claims of victims/survivors in mediations with the assistance of the court,” he said. “We have settled claims with the intent to provide assistance to victims/survivors through mediation with their attorneys and the court.”

Anderson, whose company represents 190 clients in the Albany area, said the release of the transcript of Hubbard’s deposition gives power to the voices of the victims and provides them an opportunity to confront top officials about their choices and practices. 

Anderson described the release of the documents as “the real measure of accountability through pressure” and called it “a watershed revelation” of the actions of the bishop and the diocese. 

“It lays the groundwork of any evidence to show to any court, to any judge, to any jury the kinds of things that have been done in the past that have created such massive legal responsibility and legal liability by the bishop in Albany and the catholic bishops in New York by their practices and their protocols,” he said.

This could also lead to more people coming forward, Anderson said. He said when a similar instance happened in California, 250 additional cases were brought to light. 

“I’ve sent this deposition to every major law enforcement agency in the state to alert them to things they may not have known have been going on,” he said. 

The documents have also been sent to the attorney general, state police and the district attorney in Albany. 

The hope, Anderson said, is that there will be more rigorous protocols to protect children across all organizations. Anderson said his clients have had a “deep affirming gratitude for having believed them, having taken their story and embedded it into challenging those that made the decision that caused the peril.” 

Anderson said his clients feel that they are making a difference. 

“What I have said and heard from them time and time again is, ‘I’ll feel like maybe I’ve saved another kid from having to have endured the horror that I endured by having exposed that horror through this effort,’” he said.

Hubbard tried to block the release of the transcript of his deposition, but attorneys for many of the roughly 300 alleged victims who have filed lawsuits against the diocese or individual priests argued for its release, citing Hubbard’s public statements to the Times Union last year as a reason to lift a protective order that originally shielded its release. The transcript was made public Friday after a judge recently ordered the release of his lengthy deposition.

Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on twitter at SB_DailyGazette.

 

 

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1 Comments
niskyperson March 27, 2022
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When will he be going to jail?