Ex-Prosecutor Puts Focus on Sex Claims against a Bishop
By Daniel J. Wakin
New York Times
February 20, 2004
From terrorism to chastity: Mary Jo White, the former United States attorney in Manhattan who oversaw a string of major terrorism cases, is now investigating allegations that the bishop of Albany had sexual relations with at least three men and a teenage street hustler.
Since the charges first surfaced on Feb. 4, the bishop, Howard J. Hubbard, has been waging a highly public campaign to proclaim his innocence, and he is banking on Ms. White to support his claim that he never violated his vow of celibacy. She was named on Tuesday by the review board of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
In her first appearance before the news media since then, Ms. White, 56, said in Albany yesterday that her investigation would be wide-ranging but acknowledged that it might ultimately be inconclusive. It may also be expensive - she said she would charge the diocese her usual fee of $770 an hour, not including the cost of investigators and other expenses. She said the diocese gave her a blank check on resources.
"It's not an easy assignment, and definitive answers may not be found to some or all allegations," said Ms. White, who is now in private practice. "But I intend to conduct this investigation expeditiously and thoroughly and will pursue every conceivable, reasonable avenue to find definitive answers."
Ms. White said her investigation would include the death last weekend of one of the bishop's critics, an Albany priest named John Minkler, whose name was linked in news reports to a letter addressed to Cardinal John J. O'Connor of New York. The letter denounced Bishop Hubbard, saying he had departed from church teaching, fostered gay activity in the diocese and had affairs with two young priests. Albany church officials said Father Minkler denied writing the letter several days before he died, apparently by suicide. The Archdiocese of New York said it had no such letter in its files.
Ms. White said she would investigate the allegations of affairs mentioned in the letter, as well as the circumstances of Father Minkler's death "to the extent" that they are relevant to those allegations. Any other charges that come in while she is on the case will be fair game, she said, and a toll-free number will be established to take in information.
The matter surfaced on Feb. 4 when a man said he found a suicide note from his brother, who died in an intentionally set fire in 1978, speaking of an affair with a bishop named Howard. Then another man said that as a homeless teenager in the 1970's, he had several sexual encounters with Bishop Hubbard.
Bishop Hubbard strenuously denied the allegations and repeatedly declared that he had never violated his vow of celibacy. But with no crime for a prosecutor to investigate, he has said the only way to clear his name is through an outside examination.
In Ms. White, he has a former prosecutor with a reputation for independence and toughness. She oversaw the first World Trade Center bombing case in 1993 and investigations of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the United States Embassy bombings. Her office examined President Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich and pursued drug lords in Colombia and bankers in Russia. She was United States attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002.
Ms. White now works at Debevoise & Plimpton, a Manhattan law firm. Bishop Hubbard has said the diocese's self-insurance fund - which is ultimately financed by the collection plate - would cover the bills.
The local coordinator for Voice of the Faithful, a movement demanding more say for lay people in the church, indicated that it was worth the money to arrive at the truth. "Clearly there are issues that need to be resolved, need to be investigated," said the coordinator, Cathy Bern. "It can't go through the court system. This is what we're left with."
At the news conference, Ms. White, who is not Catholic, repeatedly stressed that she took the job only with a guarantee of complete independence. No one from outside her team or law firm will read the report before it is released, she said. She set no deadline.
"We'll be seeking anything and everything that's relevant," she said, and pointed out that the investigation's success depended on the cooperation of all those with pertinent information. One of those is likely to be John Aretakis, an Albany lawyer who represents a number of people who say they were abused by priests as well as the two men who made the allegations against Bishop Hubbard two weeks ago. Ms. White and Mr. Aretakis had an initial conversation on Tuesday.
Mr. Aretakis, a bitter foe of the bishop, said he was immediately skeptical of Ms. White's role. "She's not independent because she's being paid by them," he said.
He said that the diocese's assurances of full cooperation and autonomy for Ms. White rang hollow after it gave "the same empty promises" to local prosecutors in the past.
Dennis Gaffney, in Albany, contributed reporting for this article.
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