When the Most Rev. Howard Hubbard submitted his letter of resignation to the Vatican Oct. 31, he signalled the start of a new chapter at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
Hubbard has been bishop of the diocese for 36 years.
The man chosen as his successor will have big shoes to fill, said Jeffrey Marlett, professor of religious studies at the College of Saint Rose.
“They’re going to have to get somebody who is aware of the legacy of Bishop Hubbard,” he said, “And they’re going to have to get someone who can astutely navigate the politics of this state.”
Hubbard, who assumed leadership of the diocese in 1977, is the longest tenured bishop in the country. A native of Troy, he became a priest in the same diocese where he later was appointed bishop — a rarity, according to diocesan spokesman Ken Goldfarb.
Hubbard is known for his work with at-risk populations and for reaching out to those of other denominations and faiths.
His successor could be chosen from anywhere in the world, but most likely will be from the United States, Goldfarb said.
The process of choosing a new bishop is bound by strict confidentiality.
The Congregation for Bishops, a department of the Vatican, submits a list of three names to the pope, ranked in order of preference. The pope can choose one of them or someone else entirely.
The congregation gets input from the bishops of New York state, as well as from Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio, who is the Vatican’s representative to the United States, explained the Rev. Kenneth Doyle, the diocesan chancellor for public information for the Albany Diocese.
“[Vigano] conducts his own process of consultation periodically with clergy, religious and laity and then submits his own names to the Congregation for Bishops,” he said.
The public is also welcome to write to Vigano to express their take on the needs of the diocese and their preference for a candidate for bishop, he said.
“What the Vatican does resist and disallow is any organized campaign for any particular candidate,” Doyle noted. “They don’t want this to have electioneering.”
Hubbard was required by the Vatican to submit his letter of resignation on his 75th birthday, but likely will remain in his post until a new bishop is installed, Goldfarb said.
That could take a while. There are about 50 dioceses around the world in need of a bishop, and in the United States there are 10 or 11 in line for a new leader ahead of Albany, according to Marlett.
“They have to go through this process for everybody, and they like to make sure they have vetted their candidates properly. They don’t want to make a hasty decision that they later on might regret,” he said.
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, appointing a new bishop often takes six to eight months, sometimes longer.
Marlett, Doyle and Goldfarb all said they have not heard any speculation about who might be chosen to fill the position.
“What makes it even more difficult to speculate, I think, is you have a new pope here who has shaken things up a bit, and who knows what direction he might decide to go in,” Goldfarb said.
Once the pope has made his decision, the Congregation for Bishops notifies the candidate and asks if he will accept. If he answers “yes,” the Vatican is notified and a date is set for the announcement.
When Hubbard became bishop, his installation mass was held at Siena College instead of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the mother church of the diocese, because of the expected crowd, Goldfarb said.
“When he was named, it was quite an event for the community, to have a hometown individual named as bishop,” he said.
The United States’ first bishop was installed in Baltimore in 1789, but it wasn’t until 1847 that the Albany Diocese was created and the Rt. Rev. John McCloskey became its first bishop. Since then, there have been eight others, including Hubbard.
The diocese includes 14 counties and approximately 330,000 Roman Catholics, according to its website.