A Hubbard Critic . . .
Mystery Surrounds Death of Priest

By Paul Likoudis
The Wanderer [Albany NY]
Downloaded February 27, 2004

ALBANY, N.Y. ' Fr. John Minkler, 57, was found dead Sunday, February 15. This was 48 hours after he was directed by the Diocese of Albany, N.Y. ' according to what he told this reporter ' to sign a statement denying he ever wrote a letter nearly nine years ago to the late John Cardinal O'Connor. That letter, in part, mentioned "a ring of homosexual Albany priests which also included Bishop Howard Hubbard.

Refreshed after a week-long retreat at a Trappist monastery in Spencer, Mass., Fr. Minkler returned to his home in Watervliet on the morning of Friday, February 13, and found a message on his telephone answering machine requesting him to come to the chancery to discuss the letter, which surfaced at a February 12 press conference at which Hubbard was denying public accusations he had been involved in homosexual relationships.

That telephone call from Fr. Kenneth Doyle, diocesan spokesman and both a civil and canon lawyer, and an old friend of Minkler's since the time they both served as altar boys at the same parish church in Troy, ordered Minkler to come to the chancery at once.

At the meeting, at which Hubbard was not present ' as Fr. Minkler told this reporter and other close friends immediately afterward ' Fr. Doyle presented Minkler with an affidavit declaring that he never wrote the letter to O'Connor; that he had never spoken with attorney John Aretakis (who handed out two copies of the letter to reporters, some of whom already had it) ' which was true; that he had never made such allegations against Hubbard; and that he had "never, in writing or otherwise, communicated with the Archdiocese of New York regarding such allegations."

The affidavit concluded: "I make this statement of my own free will and I know that making a false statement is a crime."

Contrary to Fr. Minkler's recollection to this reporter, made six hours after his visit to the chancery, Hubbard told reporters at a press conference after Minkler's death was reported: "Fr. Minkler made an appointment to see me and he told me that he did not author the letter, and he wanted to be with me face to face and to assure me that he had not written anything to Cardinal O'Connor about me. He did not know the priests that were named in the letter, and he did not know how his name got associated with the letter."

The meeting with Doyle was very brief, and he only saw Hubbard from a hallway, Minkler told this reporter, "Fr. Doyle had this disclaimer all made out, and he said, 'Sign it'."

"I signed it with mental reservations, and now I'm going to have to go to Confession down in New York, because I can't go in this diocese," Minkler said.

But in a long Friday evening conversation with this reporter, Minkler sounded scared. He recounted the day's events, and feared that the disclosure of the letter he wrote to Cardinal O'Connor in 1995 ' at the cardinal's request ' would be disastrous for him.

He asked this reporter, who had worked closely with him over the past 13 years to expose the corrupt clerical culture in Albany (he was one of four priests who provided the bulk of the chancery "inside information" for The Wanderer's 1991, ten-week series, Agony in Albany) for advice, and he was apprehensive about a forthcoming meeting with Hubbard, set for Monday February 16.

I suggested that he pre-empt the meeting by holding his own press conference "and let everything out." His response was that if he did that, "I'd be dead."

I then suggested he talk to a priest friend for different counsel, Fr. Joseph Wilson, in Brooklyn.

The next day, on Saturday morning, Fr. Wilson telephoned to say he had a good conversation with Minkler, for about an hour, and felt Minkler had been reassured that Hubbard would not strike out at him.

Fr. Wilson recalled that conversation for The Wanderer. "I phoned Fr. Minkler after finding a message from him on my answering machine. He thanked me for calling and told me he would call back within a minute and he did.

"At the beginning of the conversation he was clearly apprehensive and terribly burdened. He told me that he had just returned from a five-day retreat to find that he had been mentioned in connection with a report on the state of the Diocese of Albany that had been secretly prepared and handed up to Cardinal O'Connor.

"He was extremely upset that his name had been used in connection with this report, and apprehensive about what the reaction of Bishop Hubbard would be. At no time during our conversation did he tell me that he had actually met with Hubbard that afternoon; nor did he tell me that he had signed an affidavit disavowing authorship of that report. At first I was puzzled by this, but since then I have found that he spoke with another priest, Msgr. Michael Wrenn, several hours before he spoke with me, and he likewise never mentioned to Msgr. Wrenn that he had been to the chancery and signed that affidavit.

"I believe, looking back, that he was extremely uncomfortable and unhappy for having signed that false affidavit. But in the course of our conversation, he affirmed he had indeed written the report for Cardinal O'Connor. At the end of our conversation, I promised him any help and support he might need, I told him we could certainly find him a canon lawyer if he needed canonical counsel, that we have a guest room here if he needed a place to crash for a few days, and told him we must keep in touch.

"By the end of the conversation, he seemed much more relaxed, and I did not have any apprehension about his state of mind. At all."

Just minutes after receiving Wilson's call, Fr. Minkler telephoned me again, with a request that I call a reporter in New York City to whom he gave the O'Connor letter last year, and appeal to him not to disclose his name.

On Sunday morning, I received a phone call from a friend of Minkler's ' the same one he had spoken to on Friday before he called me ' in which this man asked me, at Minkler's request, to call an Albany reporter who also had a copy of the letter he wrote to O'Connor, and ask her not to disclose his name.

On Monday morning at 7 a.m., Albany Catholic Bob McCauley called me, barely able to speak through his tears, to say Fr. Minkler was dead. He died early on Sunday afternoon, apparently of a heart attack.

The Letter To O'Connor

On Monday, February 16, Fr. Minkler's death was the top news story on Albany radio and television, and by Monday evening, reports of Fr. Minkler's death were being carried in more than 100 newspapers, mostly through Associated Press dispatches, in the United States and England.

For Bishop Hubbard, the news of Minkler's death came in the midst of an intense public relations campaign in which he would meet with the press in an effort to undo the damage caused a week earlier by the accusations of the brother of a man who committed suicide after he allegedly had a sexual relationship with Hubbard.

The press conferences have not been going well. At a February 6 press conference, which Hubbard called to deny those allegations, he was asked by reporter if he ever had sex with a man or a woman. Hubbard, said no, while surrounded by 40 of his priest friends, who booed and hissed at the questioner.

Most of the reports on Minkler's death carried headlines such as, "Priest Found Dead After Meeting With Bishop," or "Priest Found Dead After Abuse Report."

Local Capital News 9's Jessica Schneider reported on the evening of February 16 as follows:

"The questions are swirling after the sudden death of 57-year-old Fr. John Minkler of Watervliet. His passing comes just days after a controversial letter surfaced, claiming Bishop Howard Hubbard had sexual relationships with two young priests. The letter is being attributed to the late Fr. Minkler.

"But Bishop Hubbard said once those allegations surfaced, Minkler asked to meet with him to clear his name. Bishop Hubbard said, 'No, I did not request a meeting. He asked to see me. He came in to sign an affidavit because he was concerned about the public airing of this letter and wanted to deny his authorship of the letter.'

"The seven-page letter contains numerous slaps at Hubbard's leadership. And though the letter was written in 1995, it has just surfaced. The Albany Catholic Diocese points to the fact that the signature on the letter is crossed out, and that it hardly resembles the signature on Minkler's affidavit denying any connection to the letter.

"Bishop Hubbard said, 'He just wanted to assure me that he had not made these allegations against me and he wasn't responsible for the contents of the letter. . . . He was upset that his name was associated with these allegations. No, I certainly didn't feel from my contact with him that he was that emotionally upset that he in any way would do anything harmful to himself or others'."

The June 10, 1995 letter Fr. Minkler wrote to Cardinal O'Connor ' for whom he served as a private secretary when O'Connor was head of the military vicariate ' was written at the cardinal's request.

The pleas of long-suffering Catholics living under the reigns of Albany's Hubbard and Rochester's Bishop Matthew Clark had finally reached their metropolitan's ears, and O'Connor, Minkler told this reporter, told him to prepare a brief on Hubbard that he would personally turn over to Pope John Paul II.

According to Minkler, as related to this reporter the evening of February 13, O'Connor during a visit to the Vatican made a personal appeal to John Paul II to remove both Hubbard and Clark, and, again, according to Minkler, the Holy Father told O'Connor, "There's nothing I can do."

The letter provided detailed accusations concerning Hubbard's deconstruction of the Church in Albany, as well as the alleged homosexual proclivities of Hubbard, some of his closest aides in the chancery, and other priests. As examples of these accusations, the letter mentioned the artificially inseminated lesbian who was teaching moral theology at the diocesan theologate, (co-run by the Diocese of Rochester), St. Bernard's; the ongoing clergy formation programs run by Clark's and Hubbard's fellow North American College graduate Fr. Tom Powers, which brought in a succession of speakers denying Catholic teaching on such vital issues as the Real Presence, the ontological understanding of the priesthood; how Catholic social service agencies and even parish priests send pregnant women to Planned Parenthood clinics for abortions; the large numbers of Catholics going over to a "Lefebvre group" and Protestant sects; the New Age proselytization at the diocesan camp and retreat center at Pyramid Lake; liturgical abuses and Hubbard's own sloppy way of celebrating Mass.

The bulk of the letter ' naming names ' however, focused on allegations of the recruitment of homosexuals to the diocesan priesthood at the same time the diocese actively discouraged normal men from applying for the priesthood; alleged that the diocese often recruited seminarians from other dioceses who had been dropped for homosexual activity; reported homosexual priests inviting male lovers to join the priesthood; reported the solicitation to homosexual activity by a chancery official of a penitent in the confessional; said that doctors and other professional health care workers had reported seeing AIDS patients who claimed they had relationships with Albany priests; stated that Hubbard had long-term homosexual relations with two young priests.

In another letter, dated 1-9-01, in his own writing, which has not yet surfaced in the press, Minkler provided the names and proclivities of the homosexual priests in the diocese.

Background On Minkler

Fr. Minkler was well situated to know this information.

In his role as chaplain at the Stratton Veterans' Hospital, he came into daily contact with former vets who had had careers as policemen, firemen, lawyers, judges, and others he referred to as "solid citizens" who would look to him for explanations on how Hubbard was able to keep so many misdeeds covered up.

Not only did he hear the old news, but also the new news, particularly as it related to clerical misbehavior, especially when victims ended up as suicides, AIDS victims, and other assorted tragedies.

Over the past 13 years, Fr. Minkler performed an invaluable role as one of The Wanderer's most reliable sources in the Diocese of Albany. When this paper reported on a priest leaving the priesthood to marry another man, on a priest boasting of having AIDS, on the case of a priest having a sex-change operation, on clerical arrests, and on some other stories which never made the local newspapers, these stories usually came from Fr. Minkler.

One of Minkler's greatest attributes was that he was trusted by many priests ' who often didn't know who each other were ' who reported incidents to him which he passed on to The Wanderer.

Minkler, ordained in 1972, was a priest for five years when Hubbard was named bishop of Albany, and saw the immediate effect he had on the diocesan priests. From the start, Hubbard launched a campaign of intimidation and often outright persecution of good priests, banishing old urban pastors to remote rural outposts, as well as ostracizing some of the faithful laity who tried to uphold Catholic orthodoxy.

The big mystery is not whether Minkler committed suicide ' and by 5 p.m. on February 17 it appears that would be the finding of the Albany County coroner ' but that he lasted so long as a priest with a great sense of humor and honor.

His funeral will be private, and details are not being released.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.