Hubbard Proposes 'Healing' Meeting
In Letter Distributed Sunday, Bishop Extends Invitation to Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse

By Ken Thurman
Times Union [Albany NY]
August 16, 2004

In an open letter to Catholics in the Albany Diocese, Bishop Howard Hubbard said he wants to meet with victims of clergy abuse so that he can apologize for any harm to them by diocesan clergy.

The letter, titled "Steps Toward Healing and Reconciliation," appeared in many church bulletins distributed Sunday at parishes throughout the 14-county diocese. Hubbard directs his invitation to those "who as minors were sexually abused by clergy of the Albany Catholic Diocese."

"I have heard your pain and anguish, and you have helped me better understand the long-term problems associated with sexual abuse," Hubbard wrote, noting that over the last several years he has met with victims of abuse.

"I have apologized on behalf of our diocese and our church. I have tried to reassure you that you were not at fault for the abuse you suffered," he adds.

But Hubbard said he still wants "the opportunity to apologize to each individual who as a minor was sexually abused by a member of our diocese clergy. I would like to meet personally with those I have never met if you feel such a meeting might bring a measure of peace, healing and reconciliation to your life," according to the letter.

"While I fully appreciate that a simple apology does not wipe away years of pain, I hope that ... I can offer spiritual comfort and support. I want you to know what you are loved and treasured by God and by the church. You have not been abandoned," the letter concludes.

The letter also appears in the Aug. 12 edition of The Evangelist, the diocese's official publication.

Ken Goldfarb, a spokesman for the diocese, downplayed the notion that Hubbard's critics may use the letter against him.

"He has apologized many times before publicly ... in letters and columns, speeches and appearances," Goldfarb said. "This was just a way of getting his message out a little more clearly."

But John Aretakis, an attorney who said he represents approximately 90 of 120 victims who have comes forward, called the Bishop's letter a "puff piece."

"Several times a year, the bishop makes a public mea culpa because it makes him look humble, apologetic and sincere. But when it comes to Bishop Hubbard, it's all public relations designed to influence his everyday parishioners," said Aretakis.

Aretakis also questioned the timing of the appeal and said he contacted diocese officials about six weeks ago offering to arrange meetings with some of the victims he represents.

"This is more of the same rhetoric. I think this is a bishop in search of regaining what was once a very high popularity," Aretakis added.

Goldfarb said copies of the letter were distributed this past week to pastors and parish administrators throughout the dioceses asking them to publish its contents in their bulletins.

The Albany Diocese includes 178 churches in 14 counties and is home to approximately 400,000 Catholics.