James V. Franco: Debate Sparked by Hubbard Allegations Has Many Layers

Troy Record [Albany NY]
February 19, 2004

The underlying, larger story behind allegations that Bishop Howard Hubbard engaged in homosexual relations with a man and a teenage boy in the 1970s is the bitter battle between old-school Catholicism and the more liberal philosophies that have been steadily gaining ground.

One debate is whether or not homosexuals should be ordained as priests. In my mind, it does not matter because priests vow not to engage in sexual relations of any kind. If that doctrine is followed, sexual orientation means little.

A potentially explosive letter purportedly written by the late Rev. John Minkler in 1995 claims 23 priests in the Albany Diocese are actively homosexual. Furthermore, the letter says Hubbard had a relationship with two priests and names another bishop as being actively homosexual.

Hubbard has staunchly denied all allegations, stating publicly he never had sex. He made a round of all local media outlets stating his case, and the diocese hired former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White to investigate the allegations.

The notion of homosexual priests does not go over well with the old school of thought, and neither do some of the other more liberal ideas like allowing priests to marry or ordaining women. Hubbard, one of the more liberal bishops in the nation, said he does not think either of those ideas should be taken off the table and remains neutral on whether he prefers to ordain homosexual priests or heterosexual priests.

The unsigned letter is somewhat of a mystery. Whether Minkler is even the author is under some dispute. After the letter was given to the media and his name affixed to it, he went to the diocese and signed an affidavit stating he was not the author. Whether he was called to the diocese or went freely is also in question.

Rev. Joseph Wilson of Queens said he had an hour long conversation with Minkler the day a television report tied Minkler to the letter and two days before Minkler was found dead in his Watervliet home. According to Wilson, Minkler told him he had written the letter, but the two did not talk about the affidavit.

Wilson said Minkler, a priest at the Stratton Veterans Administration Hospital, was "horrified" when the conversation started, but "hopeful" by the time it ended. Minkler's cause of death may not be determined for a couple weeks, but there were reports that a note had been found and suicide has not been ruled out.

Minkler and Wilson are both conservative, orthodox priests but they had never heard of each other before the conversation. They were brought together by Paul Likoudis, the editor of The Wanderer, an ultra-conservative weekly newspaper run by lay people who cover the Catholic Church. In the past, the paper has been very critical of Hubbard and the way he runs the diocese and there is speculation that Minkler was a source of much of the information the paper published.

The letter accuses Hubbard of "varied and constant" procedural irregularities during his saying Mass, such as offering wine and bread at the same time and his use of altar girls before they were approved by Rome.

It also says Hubbard is training new priests in ways not in line with church doctrine. The letter claims priests and diocesan personnel promote abortion and claims that one Catholic hospital had performed at least one abortion.

"Normal seminarians from Albany are frequently dropped because they are considered homophobic and/or too rigid, that is, pro-magisterial," according to the letter.

The more shocking acts in the letter refer to adult, consensual sex, however; an off-shoot of the clergy sex abuse scandal that has ripped the church nationwide for nearly three years. It does not claim the priests were engaging in sex with minors, only that church law has been compromised.

The Catholic Church, my church, will undoubtedly not be the same when the dust settles. And I am not sure what style is better: the hard-nosed by-the-book orthodoxy practiced by Wilson, or the more hands off, ecumenical, liberal approach promoted by Hubbard, or somewhere in the middle.

Regardless, let's hope they are three roads to the same place. Hubbard, in the midst of the most serious crisis in his 27 years as bishop, said the church's work is still going on: "The children are still being educated, the poor are being fed and the homeless are being housed." Who cares how you get there?

Jim Franco is the Capitol Bureau reporter. His column appears Thursdays.