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Bishop Emeritus Hubbard accused of sex abuse

Bishop Emeritus Hubbard accused of sex abuse

Longtime Albany bishop led diocese as crisis erupted 17 years ago
Bishop Emeritus Hubbard accused of sex abuse
Howard Hubbard, former bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, is accused abuse in recent court filings.
Photographer: GAZETTE FILE PHOTOGRAPH

ALBANY — One of the allegations of clergy sex abuse targets Howard Hubbard, former bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.

A Clifton Park resident identified only as P.R. alleges that Hubbard and the Rev. Paul Bondi molested him between 1994 and 1998. 

“During the time Father Bondi and Bishop Hubbard were employed by the Diocese, they used their positions as priests to groom and to sexually abuse plaintiff,” the suit alleges. 

The suit claims the plaintiff was abused by Bondi while he was a priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Ballston Spa, when P.R. was between 12 and 15 years old. The suit also claims that Hubbard sexually abused P.R. when he was 16 years old.

The suit doesn’t detail the alleged abuse but claims it occurred multiple times, during church activities and in some instances in a room off of the sacristy at St. Mary’s. 

The diocese issued a statement in response later Wednesday:

“While this charge is extremely distressing for the Diocese of Albany, the Bishop Emeritus is entitled to be treated in the same manner as any other priest or deacon who has been accused of abuse. The diocese has clear policies and procedures in place when such accusations arise, and we expect those to be followed in this case, and in every case. It is critically important to remember that, like anyone else, Bishop Emeritus Hubbard enjoys the presumption of innocence, and we will withhold any judgment until all the facts are known and this case is resolved. We take all allegations seriously and pray for all who come forward with allegations.

“In accordance with Pope Francis’ recently updated reporting guidelines (known as Vos Estis), Bishop Scharfenberger has informed the Papal Nuncio as well as Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who serves as the Metropolitan Archbishop for the New York Province, of the legal claim against Bishop Hubbard. After his conversation with the Cardinal today, Bishop Scharfenberger reported that Cardinal Dolan urged full cooperation with the investigation, expressed gratitude to Pope Francis for the clear directives in Vos Estis, and offered prayers for all involved.”

PAST ALLEGATION

The new allegation of sexual misconduct is not the first Hubbard has faced.

In 2004, he was accused of having a homosexual relationship with a man who committed suicide in 1978. Hubbard denied this, and the diocese hired a former federal prosecutor to investigate the charge. 

After an investigation that stretched four months and cost the diocese $2.2 million, former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White reported she found no credible evidence that Hubbard had inappropriate sexual relations or had led a homosexual lifestyle or broken his vows of celibacy.

Hubbard became the nation’s youngest Catholic bishop at age 38 in 1977 and became bishop emeritus in 2014, after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

When the church sex abuse scandal broke into the open in the early 2000s, he was caught in the middle of it as the leader and public face of the Albany diocese, which like many others had allowed priests to remain in public ministry after being alleged or even proved to have molested children.

In a scenario repeated by bishops nationwide, for example, Hubbard’s immediate predecessor, Bishop Edwin Broderick, arranged for transfer of a priest accused of molestation to Boston, where he was later accused of additional molestation. Then-Albany County District Attorney Sol Greenberg had met with Broderick and agreed not to prosecute the priest if he didn’t return.

NUANCED RESPONSE

A year into the crisis, Hubbard sat down with a Daily Gazette reporter in 2003 for a wide-ranging interview in which he described the stress and pain of the situation, the strain of which had visibly aged him.

He maintained that he’d been unaware clergy sex abuse was a wide-ranging phenomenon when he became bishop, and said he followed established guidelines and his conscience to deal with it on a case-by-case basis.

However, his position was nuanced and evolved over time.

Before the crisis erupted, Hubbard would send priests accused of molestation to counseling and allow them to return to ministry if an independent psychologist thought it appropriate.

"I could have always made the decision that I would not restore anyone to ministry if it was substantiated abuse that had occurred,” Hubbard said. “It was my sense that treatment works and people could be rehabilitated and do effective ministry.”

In April 2002, after an emergency Vatican summit of cardinals, he said he supported a proposed zero-tolerance policy for clergy sex abuse — but only for future cases, not retroactively.

Later in 2002, when U.S. bishops convened to decide how to respond to the crisis, he was advocating for a more flexible case-by-case review. But he was in a very small minority holding that opinion, and he later voted with the majority, 246-7, in favor of zero tolerance.

By mid-2005, scores of priests across the United States had been defrocked by the Vatican for sexual abuse of children. The Albany Diocese had removed 20 priests from public ministry but not asked for a single one of them to be laicized — permanently removed from priesthood — by the Vatican.

“I understand that some victims feel laicization is the only fitting punishment,” Hubbard said at the time. “But I have concluded that publicly announced and permanent removal from ministry provides appropriate punishment for the priest and adequate protection for the community.”

As scores of people, some now in middle age, came forward with complaints of clergy abuse and sought millions in damages, Hubbard’s actions seemed at times to conflict with his stated intentions, leading victims and their advocates to criticize him as tone-deaf at best.

In one case, Hubbard officiated at the 2005 funeral of Edward N. Leroux, a Glens Falls-area priest who was one of the first removed from public ministry for what the Albany diocese said were substantiated allegations of sex abuse of minors.

“It’s disturbing,” Mark Lyman said at the time. The Stillwater man, who headed the Albany chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, had filed a $5 million lawsuit alleging sex abuse by a priest in a Massachusetts court because the statute of limitations in New York had expired. “I hope that in the future we can make a difference by speaking to lawmakers, politicians and others and change laws and we can help victims.”

Fourteen years later, the future he envisioned appears to have arrived.

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