Editorial: Diocese must come clean

Times Union [Albany NY]

March 29, 2022

By Times Union Editorial Board

A key moment in the newly released deposition of Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard comes when an attorney asks the retired Catholic leader why he hadn’t called law enforcement after being apprised by a county social services commissioner that David Bentley, a priest under the bishop’s control, had allegedly committed child sexual abuse — and that the cleric had subsequently admitted it to the bishop.

“Bishop,” Jeffrey R. Anderson asks, “why didn’t you, after (Rev. Bentley) admitted to you having committed the felony of child sexual abuse, at his lips to your ears, why didn’t you call up the police and say, ‘I have a priest that just admitted a crime to me’?”

Bishop Emeritus Hubbard’s answer: “Because I was not a mandated reporter. I don’t think the law then or even now requires me to do it.”

You could not ask for a purer distillation of the Catholic church’s failure to properly address the sexual abuse of children than that appallingly legalistic answer.

The revelations from Bishop Emeritus Hubbard’s deposition back up last summer’s reporting by Times Union reporter Ed McKinley: The retired bishop was for years aware of credible allegations of the sexual abuse of children, but failed to alert authorities to accounts of the kind of behavior that anyone — much less the leader of a religious organization ostensibly devoted to protecting society’s most vulnerable — would recognize not merely as sins but as criminal conduct. Instead, then-Bishop Hubbard sent the accused priests off for counseling, and then welcomed them back into churches, where some of them allegedly went on to victimize more children.

It is long past time for the diocese to employ radical transparency about what church leaders knew and what they concealed in these cases, and drop its legal efforts to keep the truth from the public. It has empowered its lawyers to fight almost every effort to bring its failures to light and argued in court documents that it would be unfair to its defense to have these matters debated in the public square before trial.

The Catholic faith teaches that confession is good for the individual’s soul. But what about the church’s soul, or at least its conscience? If the diocese hopes to retain its important role as a spiritual leader in the greater Capital Region, it needs to come clean with its parishioners and the larger community about how these abuses were committed, enabled and covered up. And it can’t come in the form of a church-funded “report” by an expensive law firm.

If that transparency results in revelations that expose the diocese to civil judgments or settlements that force it into bankruptcy — as has occurred in Rochester, Rockville Centre and elsewhere — that is only right and just.

Financial bankruptcy, after all, is a state from which one can emerge after a period of attempting to do right by your creditors. But moral bankruptcy lasts forever — or at least as long as the victims are suffering.