Death Poses New Round of Questions for Diocese
Watervliet-- John Minkler, 57, Had Been Cited As Author of 1995 Letter That Accused Bishop Hubbard, Others of Transgressions
By Brian Nearing
Albany Times Union [Watervliet NY]
February 17, 2004
A priest whose name was linked last week to allegations of homosexuality against Albany Roman Catholic Bishop Howard Hubbard was found dead in his home Sunday.
The body of the Rev. John Minkler, 57, was discovered on the floor of his kitchen at 2319 Seventh Ave. by his sister, who called 911 at 1:48 p.m. Sunday, Watervliet Police Chief Jerry Beston said Monday.
Beston said there were no apparent signs of injury or of forced entry at the home in which Minkler lived alone. Minkler left a note, the chief said, but he did not reveal its contents. The cause of death has not yet been determined.
The note was turned over to Albany County Coroner Herman Thomas. He said results of an autopsy could take several days pending toxicology tests.
On Monday, the diocese released a statement calling Minkler's death "a great loss for his family and friends, for the Albany Diocese and for the veterans and staff of the Stratton Veterans Administration Hospital in Albany, where he had served faithfully as Catholic chaplain for 20 years. We will pray for Father Minkler and for all who loved him."
The priest's death was the latest in a series of shocking events involving the diocese and its bishop. Nearly two weeks ago, a California man accused Hubbard of having a sexual relationship with his brother, who committed suicide in 1978. A Schenectady businessman then said Hubbard paid him for sex in the 1970s, when he was a runaway teenager.
Hubbard, who steadfastly proclaims that he has kept his priestly vow of celibacy, has been on the offensive ever since. The Albany Roman Catholic Diocese, which Hubbard has led for 27 years, immediately asked District Attorney Paul Clyne to investigate the matter. When Clyne declined, the church announced it would hire an independent investigator.
The bishop has taken an unprecedented high profile in personally refuting the allegations. He has met with several newspaper editorial boards, held multiple news conferences and on Sunday and Monday answered questions on local talk radio programs. Some of the callers were harshly critical of him, though many members of the diocese have rallied to his defense.
Minkler's name surfaced last week as the purported author of a 1995 letter to then-New York Archdiocese Cardinal John O'Connor. The author of the letter, whose name was blacked out on copies obtained by reporters, accused Hubbard and others in the diocese of a wide array of personal and theological transgressions.
On Friday, the church announced that Minkler had disavowed authorship of the letter and had said he had never contacted the archdiocese. On Monday, they released Minkler's signed statement to that effect.
But the head of Roman Catholic Faithful, a Chicago-based group of conservative Catholics, disputed that account. Stephen Brady said Minkler had been working with him for three years to uncover homosexual activity in the Albany Diocese.
"Reverend Minkler was scared to death that the bishop would find out," said Brady, president of the group that opposes any weakening of church positions against homosexuality, birth control and abortion.
"He called me Saturday and left a message on my voice mail, saying, 'I need your help with Hubbard.' I was not able to get back with Father Minkler," Brady said.
Brady said Minkler wrote the letter, which was signed only as "Henry."
Copies of the letter were made public last week by Albany-area attorney John Aretakis.
Aretakis, who has represented dozens of victims of clergy sexual abuse and has accused the diocese of mistreating victims, ignited the controversy surrounding Hubbard at a Feb. 4 news conference at which he produced a typed, unsigned suicide note from a former mental patient who indicated a sexual relationship with Hubbard. He also arranged the Feb. 5 news conference at which Hubbard was accused of paying a teenage runaway for sex in the 1970s.
Aretakis on Monday said he never spoke with Minkler but called him an "excellent priest and a brave man."
Brady, who said Minkler sent him a copy of the letter about the diocese in 2001, released handwritten fax cover sheets that he claimed were signed by Minkler and had accompanied the letter. These signatures were similar to the one on the church statement signed by Minkler on Friday.
Minkler was a priest for 32 years. He served as an associate pastor at St. Joseph's Parish in Rensselaer, St. Francis de Sales Parish in Troy and St. Teresa's Parish in Albany.
He later was secretary to Archbishop Joseph Ryan of the Military Vicariate before being appointed chaplain at the Stratton VA hospital in 1984.
Minkler was a graduate of Catholic Central High School in Troy, Mater Christi Seminary and University Seminary (St. Paul's) in Ottawa.
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