Aching Need for Answers, but Not DA

Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
February 6, 2004

It was plain to see how mortified Bishop Howard Hubbard was for the questions raised, and for the answers we had to hear.

But we absolutely had to hear them.

"I do not know Thomas Zalay. I have never had any relationship with Thomas Zalay. I have never sexually abused anyone of any age. I have honored my vow of celibacy," the head of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese read from a prepared statement at a press conference Thursday.

Not surprisingly, Hubbard was haggard, noticeably strained, his voice quavering with emotion. The bishop's appearance was downright painful to watch, whether you happen to be a supporter or not.

Of all the depressing revelations or accusations of priestly sexual abuse to come out of the diocese over the last couple of years, here was arguably the most humiliating and damaging. A new low.

Whoever could have guessed it would come to this: The long-time spiritual leader of the Albany Diocese facing television cameras, stripped of any dignity, denying a homosexual relationship with a young man who later -- in 1978 -- committed suicide allegedly because of that relationship.

If two years ago anyone had suggested a press conference like this one was down the road, I would have bet a year's pay it couldn't happen.

Standing next to me as we watched the bishop's adamant denials was a colleague, a faithful member of a local parish. Tears were forming in her eyes. "God tells me I should believe my bishop. But is he telling the truth?"

Bishop Hubbard has offered to take a lie detector test. He should.

Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne has been asked by the attorney for the diocese to conduct an investigation into the allegations raised by the brother of the suicide victim, represented by controversial attorney John Aretakis.

The bishop says this is too delicate and far-reaching an issue to be investigated through the diocese's review process. He's right, but Paul Clyne shouldn't be the one to do it.

Because there is no crime here to prosecute. "Absolutely, there is no crime even alleged," confirms Aretakis. What is alleged is that a relationship existed that constituted abusive behavior by the bishop, in essence providing a negative character reference for Hubbard. Even as a number of accusations against diocese priests are in litigation.

No crime, no Clyne. The DA should not use the public dime for the purpose of clearing the bishop's good name, or not. We sympathize with Bishop Hubbard's right to due process, for a voice of authority to look at all this and give us credible answers. But the county's chief legal officer shouldn't be the one to do it.

Someone else in the legal community, familiar with weighing accusations and evidence, would be a logical choice.

The frustration for Bishop Hubbard is that this accusation of a relationship is neither provable, nor disprovable. The suicide victim and both parents, who may have known details, are all dead. The brother is making his charges based on recently uncovered notes apparently left by the victim. Of course the bishop had to make an unequivocal denial of this relationship, which he extended to any other sexual relationship as well. It's a bold defense, but it does open the door to more depressing news conferences like this one.

Meanwhile, all this can't help but have a corrosive effect on the bishop's credibility and the work of the diocese. Not to mention test the loyalty of the faithful.

But is any of it deserved? Frankly, most of us don't know who to believe anymore. Not totally, anyway. Doubts have crept in at every level. We are numb from accusations and denials.

So not just the bishop deserves an outside credible voice of authority to step forward and help us with perspective, to sort out the real from the nonsense. We all do.

Contact Fred LeBrun at 454-5453.


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