Bishop Keeping the Faith, but Knows Much Work Lies Ahead

By Robert Cristo
The Record
June 23, 2004

ALBANY - Even with the recent approval of a second round of accountability audits into the Roman Catholic Church's compliance with sexual abuse policies, Albany Bishop Howard J. Hubbard concedes it is going to take a long time to alleviate the anger, suspicion and disillusionment among many parishioners.

"Obviously there's a severe breach of trust on the part of a number of priests and bishops that's very jarring and upsetting," said Hubbard in a telephone interview.

"If we are faithful to our promise we can hopefully help restore trust and credibility, but there's no magic wand solution. ... It's a long, hard process," added the bishop, who is facing allegations of homosexual behavior (with an adult) that he vehemently denies.

Following last week's six-day conference in Denver with clerics from across the country, Hubbard said he was pleased that the U.S. Conference of Bishops approved a second annual analysis of how dioceses are responding to reforms adopted in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal that started in the Boston Archdiocese.

Bishops voted 207-15 for the accountability audits, which were adopted in Dallas - with Hubbard's support - two years ago.

New York Cardinal Edward Egan was one of the few who wanted to put off last week's decision on the audits until the fall, which upset advocates for alleged clergy abuse victims.

Hubbard felt that approving the measure was a good way to build on last year's audit, which found the Albany Diocese to be in full compliance in implementing reforms like removing priests who had a single, credible allegation against them. Ninety percent of all dioceses across the country were found to be in compliance as part of that report.

The bishop is also a member of a national Sexual Abuse Committee that proposed the first audit.

"It's a way of fulfilling public accountability on sexual abuse. ... It would make sure the 10 percent that weren't in compliance were now, and the ones (dioceses) who are complying aren't backsliding," said Hubbard, who added that the audit would make sure victims were being provided assistance.

In his own diocese, Hubbard believes things are moving in the right direction.

"We've been working diligently and remaining in compliance. ... We've had 11,000 people trained in preventing child abuse and done background checks (on priests and employees hired)," said Hubbard.

"It's behind-the-scenes work that's building a foundation to make sure the Catholic Church is the safest place to be," he added.

Despite those efforts, there are still many parishioners and alleged victims of clergy abuse who believe the wounds will never heal unless Hubbard steps down from his leadership post in the 400,000-member diocese.

Former Albany parishioner Joe Woodward, 37, recently filed a lawsuit against both the Boston and Albany dioceses that alleges defrocked priest Dozia Wilson sexually abused him in the 1980s.

After many years of accusations against him, both in Albany and Boston, Wilson was finally removed from ministry in 1993 by the Albany Diocese.

Last year, the Albany Diocese reached a $500,000 settlement with a man who was victimized by Wilson. Still, Woodward says, no one from the diocese has taken his claims to heart.

Wilson is one of 20 priests who have been removed from ministry in the Albany Diocese.

"I was abused and nobody calls me from the church. Where's my compassion?" asked Woodward. "Because I've taken my story on television and made it very public, they want to make me out to be a liar.

"The diocese gives settlements to people who shut up about it. ... They want a path of least resistance," he added.

Lawyers for the diocese are attempting to move Woodward's case from Boston to New York, where Woodward's attorney John Aretakis believes the diocese has a better shot at getting it thrown out of court based on statute of limitations laws.

"Look at the games he's (Hubbard) trying to play with me in court in a case with a known pedophile," said Woodward. "Not I, nor many parishioners, trust Hubbard, and I don't think he's really trying to create any kind of positive changes," he said.

Aretakis, who represents nearly 100 alleged victims of clergy abuse, says all he has to point to is the Albany Diocese's lead investigator Tom Martin recently revealing on videotape that he is looking into complaints against 150 priests.

That would mean 70 more priests were accused of sexual misconduct (out of of 814 clergy members) since the 1950s than were disclosed in the diocesan misconduct report in 2003.

The report also stated that 120 victims had filed complaints, which would most likely be higher with the added accused priests pointed out by Martin.

"Hubbard is still trying to give the impression that he's reaching out to the victims and has it under control, but he's still protecting pedophiles," said Aretakis.

"I don't have a problem with anyone being a homosexual, but in the diocese it's a problem because the gay priests are afraid to tell on the pedophiles out of fear of being outed by them," he added.

Non-Catholics keeping a close eye on the scandal say if such a situation erupted in their church, synagogue or mosque, it would shake their faith in organized religion.

"It's distressing to here about so many trusted priests violating that trust in the worst of ways," said Nicola Bennett, who works at the state Department of Labor in Troy. "I believe a lot of people have lost faith in priests. ... I know I would have if I were Catholic."

The second sexual misconduct audit is expected to be completed by late December.


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