Diocese under Attack at Conference
Colonie -- Aretakis, Others Criticize Hubbard and Sex-Abuse Policies at Daylong Event
By Brian Nearing
Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
May 9, 2004
Christine Oakes heard for herself Saturday from the man she said her church deacon has called "the evil one."
She was so impressed by attorney John Aretakis and his fight against clergy sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany that she immediately paid $6 for a cassette tape of his Saturday talk at the Elks Lodge to share with friends.
Oakes, a 51-year-old Catholic with strong views against abortion, was one of the 250 people who attended a daylong conference in Latham sponsored by the Coalition of Concerned Catholics of the Albany Diocese.
The group, which last year demanded Bishop Howard Hubbard's resignation and says the diocese under his leadership has become too liberal in teaching human sexuality, also hosted two Midwestern activists who are working to force out Hubbard.
"I'm not a member of the coalition," said Oakes, a Scotia resident who attends the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Glenville. "I just came to this for information. Have my eyes been opened. What you are seeing here today is the purification of the Catholic Church."
Also speaking were two men who have worked with Aretakis -- Stephen Brady of Illinois, president of Roman Catholic Faithful, and Paul Likoudis of The Wanderer, a conservative Catholic newspaper based in Minnesota.
Likoudis chided local media, saying it has not reported that the diocese under Hubbard encourages androgyny, bisexuality, radical feminism and New Age spirituality.
In February, Brady and Likoudis led a contentious forum at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Albany that drew about 200 people, with supporters and opponents of the bishop sometimes engaging in shouting matches.
This time, when coalition chairman Philip Kiernan asked who in the crowd supported Hubbard, only a single hand was raised.
It was the first appearance before the coalition by Aretakis, who said he represents about 90 sexual abuse victims in the diocese. In February, his battle escalated dramatically when he brought forth accusations from two men who say Hubbard engaged in homosexual behavior during the 1970s.
"We were a little tentative about it," Kiernan said. "We didn't want it to look like we agree with everything (Aretakis) has said. But he's for the victims and on that, we agree."
Aretakis admitted that even his own mother has gotten upset with him.
"This isn't an anti-homosexual agenda," Aretakis said. "It's about pedophilia and mutual blackmail between gay priests and a gay bishop, and the pedophiles who sneak in underneath the dark of night."
The forum didn't attract any of the family of the Rev. John Minkler, who committed suicide at his Watervliet home Feb. 15 after becoming enmeshed in the Hubbard allegations. His body was found by one of his two sisters.
His death came days after he was publicly identified as the author of a 1995 letter to then-New York Archbishop John O'Connor that accused Hubbard of homosexual behavior and theological transgressions. Before he died, Minkler signed a statement for the diocese denying that he wrote it.
The 57-year-old priest, who was a chaplain at the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center, was a source of information critical of Hubbard, Brady and Likoudis have said.
When a questioner asked Aretakis if he thought Minkler had been murdered, he answered, "I don't agree that he was murdered. I have no indication of it."
Diocese spokesman Ken Goldfarb said Saturday an "overwhelming number" of Catholics in the diocese support Hubbard, who denies any homosexual activity and who has hired former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White to investigate, and hopefully refute, such allegations.
Goldfarb also released a statement from two members of St. Vincent de Paul's parish in Albany, Michael Burgess and Deb Riitano, that said:
"We support Bishop Hubbard for his compassionate leadership for many years. This fringe group will never succeed in its efforts because the people in the pews understand that it is on a vendetta against the bishop which it has conducted for many years and is now trying to capitalize on the sex abuse scandal as a means to destroy the bishop."
Goldfarb did not say why the comments of Burgess and Riitano were being showcased.
Betty Madigan, a Schaghticoke resident, questioned why Hubbard appointed the diocese's personnel director, the Rev. Geoffrey Burke, whose office in the past would reassign abusive priests to different parishes, to the Sexual Misconduct Review Board, which hears victim complaints. "That seems to be a real conflict of interest," she said.
Madigan attended St. Monica's Church in Johnsonville, which was closed by the diocese in 2001. She said the diocese assigned several gay priests to the church and ignored complaints from parishioners. "You can appeal to the bishop on these issues and he does not intercede," she said.
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