ALBANY -- Retired Albany Catholic Diocese Bishop Howard J. Hubbard is denying the latest allegations leveled against him under the Child Victims Act, as the diocese continues to face new accusations of abuse by priests.
Hubbard is denying the allegations in two new lawsuits filed in state Supreme Court in Albany County last week. One alleges that he was directly involved in abuse of a young woman in a Schenectady church in the 1980s while he was bishop, the other that he was aware of a diocese priest having committed abuse and didn't act.
"In response to the allegations of sexual misconduct that have been made against me under the Child Victims Act, I have stated before and I repeat that I have never sexually abused anyone of any age at any time," Hubbard said in a statement through his attorneys, O'Connor First of Albany.
One case was filed on behalf of an anonymous 54-year-old Schenectady County woman, naming the Albany Diocese, Hubbard and Father Francis Melfe, the former pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Schenectady, which closed in 2010. Melfe, who was eventually laicized, faces a separate lawsuit brought by the children in an allegedly "secret" family he maintained while serving as a priest.
The lawsuit charges that the woman, identified as Harper Doe, worked for Melfe in the rectory of Immaculate Conception as a teenager. There, she said he would host weekend poker nights with Hubbard and other priests. She says Melfe, Hubbard and another Immaculate Conception priest, Father Albert DelVecchio, sexually abused her by masturbating. DelVecchio died in 2017, and his obituary acknowledged card-playing. "Friday night card games were his opportunity to share his wit and wisdom," it stated.
The other lawsuit contains allegations that Father Gerard R. Miller abused a now 51-year-old Albany County man in the 1980s, when he was director of the La Salette Christian Life Center in Altamont, and that Hubbard was aware of his alleged actions, which is said to have occurred at two churches.
"This activity with respect to the sexual assault of a child on the part of defendant Bishop Hubbard and other priests constitutes a conspiracy of abuse and concealment rendering Bishop Hubbard compromised and unable to govern or act in a supervisory capacity with respect to the ongoing atrocities committed by priests working in parishes in the diocese," the lawsuit against Hubbard and Miller states.
"They are very serious [allegations]," said JoAnn Harri of Albany, whose law firm filed the new cases, and also represented the family members suing Melfe. "We've corroborated them with other individuals and investigated fully, or we wouldn't have gone forward with them."
Hubbard was bishop of the Albany Diocese from 1977 until his retirement in 2014. When an earlier charge was brought against him in August, Hubbard denied the allegations, but said he would take a leave from performing all priestly duties.
In his new statement, Hubbard said he has had a record of standing up for victims and cooperating with investigations into alleged abuse.
"I do not assert that the individuals who have accused me have not been abused," his statement said. "Surely, the abuse they have described is horrific and heartbreaking. I pray daily that they will find healing, justice and peace. However, I am absolutely certain that I was not their abuser nor ever participated in their abuse.
"I will defend myself in the civil and canonical processes with every fiber of my being.With respect to the specific claim that I socialized, played cards and participated with other priests in abusing a child at a rectory in Schenectady in the 1970s, I never engaged in any of the behavior described. I know or knew the other priests also accused by this individual, but I did not socialize with them," Hubbard said.
“The allegations contained in this lawsuit are deeply troubling and will be investigated without fear or favor," the Albany Diocese said in a statement. "It is important to remember that Bishop Emeritus Howard J. Hubbard enjoys the presumption of innocence until and unless proven otherwise. The Diocese of Albany will keep its focus on survivors and on trying to get to the truth of the matter in each and every case that is filed."
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan is being notified of the charges against Hubbard, as required by church policy, the diocese said.
The Child Victims Act opened a one-year window that started Aug. 14 for the filing of civil cases of past child abuse allegations. Since then, the Albany Diocese and Catholic dioceses across the state have faced dozens of new lawsuits by plaintiffs alleging past abuse.
The number of cases last week prompted the Roman Catholic Diocese in Rochester to file for bankruptcy.
On Tuesday, current Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger released a video that appealed to Catholics to maintain their faith, despite the allegations facing the church.
"We know that scripture tells us that God lets his rain fall on the just as well as the unjust," Scharfenberger said in the video, which alluded to the allegations facing the church. "We have nothing to fear from the truth, and the rain of God's grace has a way of purifying us, so that we become a purer church, a holier church."