Priest's Death Is Ruled a Suicide
Albany-- County Coroner's Determination Comes Almost 2 Months after the Rev. John Minkler Was Found at Home
By Michele Morgan Bolton and Jordan Carleo-Evangelist
Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
April 7, 2004
The Rev. John Minkler's death on Feb. 15 was ruled a suicide late Tuesday, bringing to a close nearly two months of fervent speculation in a Catholic diocese rocked by the clergy sex abuse scandal.
Albany County Coroner Herman Thomas declined to describe what the reports specifically showed, saying only that based on them his office had concluded there was no foul play involved in Minkler's death.
Based on the findings, Thomas said his office concluded that Minkler, 57, had taken his own life.
By law, an autopsy report can only be distributed to the victim's family or the district attorney.
Minkler's body was found by his sister on the kitchen floor of his Watervliet apartment, laying face down on a blanket.
"That's a great loss for his friends, family, and the people he worked with," said diocese spokesman Ken Goldfarb. "I'm not sure there's much more to say about it."
Goldfarb said he learned about the coroner's findings from reporters.
An unidentified bottle of prescription drugs was found by Minkler's side, along with a suicide note, neither of which have, or are likely to be, made public.
No specific cause of death was released Tuesday.
Minkler's sister, Colleen Quackenbush, refused comment Tuesday night, while his other sister, Patricia Minkler, couldn't be reached.
"We don't accept the findings of the coroner," said Phillip Kiernan, who heads the Coalition of Concerned Catholics of the Albany Diocese, a conservative group that has taken Hubbard to task for the ills of his diocese.
"I'm a traditional Catholic, but this has a smell to it," Kiernan said. "Father Minkler had heart and stomach ailments. But now I'm beginning to wonder, because this looks like a cover-up."
Prior to his death, Minkler had been linked to a 1995 letter to then-New York Archbishop John O'Connor accusing Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard of homosexual behavior and theological transgressions.
The former VA chaplain's death came two days after he signed a statement for the Albany Diocese disavowing authorship of the letter.
John Aretakis, a lawyer for dozens of alleged victims of sexual abuse, called on Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne and federal prosecutors to begin a criminal investigation of the Rev. Kenneth Doyle, who he claims tricked Minkler into believing he had broken the law when he sent the alleged O'Connor letter.
Neither Clyne nor Doyle could be reached for comment.
In February, coroner Thomas said results of an autopsy could take several days pending toxicology tests. In mid-March, he said he'd received all toxicology tests but one from the Albany lab probing the unattended death.
The missing lab result was expected "soon," he said.
Since then, Thomas has said, about every two days, that results could be available "probably tomorrow."
A Times Union Freedom of Information Law request for a copy of the alleged suicide note found by the priest's body, and the complete autopsy report, was denied several weeks ago.
The only way to get acces to it now is by a court order.
The information on Minkler's death came Tuesday as a former federal prosecutor looking into allegations of sexual misconduct by Bishop Howard Hubbard said she has interviewed more than 140 priests, former priests and lay people in the past two months.
Mary Jo White, hired by the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese's Sexual Misconduct Review Board on Feb. 16, released a statement indicating that the probe 'is proceeding actively."
The statement came a few weeks after White's investigators were accused of conducting interviews at the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albany on March 2 without permission.
They later apologized.
White declined to say what she has turned up so far or when the final report will be completed.
"It sounds like she's doing a very thorough job," said Goldfarb. "That's what we want."
White, a partner in the 500-member firm of Debevoise & Plimpton in Manhattan, is being paid $770 an hour. Her investigation is focused on claims raised Feb. 4 by Andrew Zalay, now of California, who released his brother Thomas' 1978 suicide notes, one of which refers to a relationship with "Howard" and calls him the bishop.
Thomas Zalay died after setting himself ablaze in his parents' Myrtle Avenue home.
Two days later, Anthony Bonneau of Schenectady claimed that Hubbard paid him for sex while he was a teenage runaway living in Washington Park in the 1970s.
No evidence has surfaced to corroborate his story.
The 64-year-old Hubbard, who has led the 400,000-member diocese since 1977, has denied that he ever broke his vow of celibacy.
The diocese turned to White after Clyne declined to investigate the allegations against Hubbard because he said there was no criminal basis. She promised to take her investigation wherever it leads but will not look at misconduct claims against other priests.
White is also looking at the circumstances surrounding Minkler's death.
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