Diocese Names Retired Judge As Adviser
Albany -- Howard A. Levine to Plan Financial Compensation and Counseling of Victims
By Brian Nearing
December 6, 2003
ALBANY (NY) -One day after he released a detailed report on the scope of the scandal of priests' sexual abuse of children, Bishop Howard Hubbard announced Friday his appointment of a retired state Court of Appeals judge to advise the diocese on how to deal with victims.
Howard A. Levine, who left the bench in January, said Hubbard gave him a "total blank check" to develop a program for financial compensation and counseling of victims.
"My only criteria for taking this job was independence," said Levine, during a news conference with Hubbard at the Pastoral Center on North Main Avenue. "I am sure that the diocese will give me access to all their personnel files."
Levine, a Republican, was a Schenectady County district attorney before beginning a judicial career that spanned more than 30 years. He served on the Schenectady County Family Court and state Supreme Court before Gov. Mario Cuomo appointed him to the state's highest court. He is now senior counsel with the Albany firm of Whiteman Osterman & Hanna.
Hubbard said he approached Levine because he wants to bring more public trust to the integrity of the diocese's handling of a sexual abuse scandal that erupted across the country nearly two years ago.
The bishop and Levine said that no budget or any details about how the new program might work have been agreed upon. "This program will be independent of the diocese," Hubbard said.
Levine said he will report to Hubbard in the unpaid position. Levine said he would report any finding of criminal activity to civil authorities, unless "it was given to me in confidence."
On Thursday, the diocese released figures tallying the scope of the sexual abuse scandal that were collected as part of a nationwide investigation ordered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002 at a meeting in Dallas.
To date in the Albany Diocese, 18 priests have been removed for credible allegations of abuse, another 15 are under investigation and the diocese has paid nearly $4 million for settlement claims, counseling and legal fees.
The figures cover a period from 1950 through November 1 of this year, although the majority of complaints occurred within the last decade.
"Some of the victims and their advocacy groups mistrust the church's handling of this," Hubbard said. "That is understandable."
Hubbard said his decision to bring in Levine was not a vote of no confidence in the diocese's Sexual Misconduct Review Board created in December 2002 and Victims/Survivors Assistance Coordinator Theresa F. Rodrigues. "This will be an expansion on what we have been doing," the bishop said.
Some victims' advocates have complained the board has discouraged complaints and tried to limit the number of counseling sessions offered to victims.
"If Bishop Hubbard had done this years ago, when he learned of the problem, I'd be the first person to stand up and applaud," said Mark Furnish, director of the Capital District chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "To do it now, in 2003, when so much has already happened, is his attempt to seal a hole in a dam that is about to break."
Furnish said any victim coming to the diocese should have a lawyer "or otherwise the diocese will hurt you all over again."
Hubbard and Levine have known each other since Hubbard's days as a street priest in Albany's South End. Levine is Jewish, but Hubbard said his religious faith was not a factor in his selection. "It was based on his integrity."
Levine is the Justice Robert H. Jackson Distinguished Professor at Albany Law School and a jurist-in-residence at Siena College. He was honored this year by the New York State Bar Association as an advocate for children's rights. He founded the association's Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Section in 1979 and served on the state Commission on Child Welfare.
Trying to reestablish credibility with the public is one of the biggest challenges facing dioceses struggling with the scandal, said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of America, a national Catholic weekly magazine.
"One way is to bring in someone with independent credibility from outside," Reese said. "This is probably a good way for the (Albany Diocese) to go. I would say that (Levine) is in a good position to get whatever he wants."
Reese said he was not aware of any other dioceses that had taken a similar approach, although many diocesan victims' review boards do include outside authorities like retired police officers and judges.
Reese said the diocese cannot afford a dispute over access to information. "That would be a public relations disaster," he said.
The only ongoing criminal case linked to the scandal is in Schenectady County and involves the Rev. Alan Jupin. District Attorney Robert Carney began an investigation in May at the request of Hubbard, who referred an alleged victim's claims that he was stalked by Jupin to prevent him from filing a sexual abuse complaint with the diocese. Jupin is on leave from the diocese. Carney said the case is pending but had no further comment.
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