Times Union [Albany NY]
March 25, 2022
By Brendan J. Lyons
Preserving ‘respect for the priesthood’ was behind efforts to conceal sexual abuse, Hubbard said
Former Albany Bishop Howard J. Hubbard testified under oath last year that the diocese systematically concealed incidents of child sexual abuse, did not alert law enforcement agencies when they discovered it, and that their actions were, in part, intended to avoid scandal and preserve “respect for the priesthood.”
The testimony of Hubbard was made public Friday after a judge recently ordered the release of a lengthy deposition that took place last April. The former bishop was questioned for four days that month by attorneys representing dozens of individuals who filed claims under the state’s Child Victims Act alleging they had been sexually abused by priests or others associated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
During his deposition, which took place over Zoom, Hubbard was pressed by one attorney about why he didn’t call the police when David Bentley, a former priest, had allegedly admitted to him that he had sexually abused a child. Bentley was eventually removed from ministry by the diocese for sexual abuse allegations involving multiple minors.
Hubbard testified that a county social services commissioner had contacted him and said that Bentley had sexually abused a child. The commissioner allegedly told him that the county was “providing assistance to the individual and the family, but they wanted us to do something about Father Bentley. … He had admitted that he had engaged in this behavior, and he was sent for treatment.”
Jeffrey R. Anderson, whose law firm specializes in abuse cases, asked Hubbard during the deposition, “Bishop, why didn’t you, after he 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’?”
“Because I was not a mandated reporter,” Hubbard responded. “I don’t think the law then or even now requires me to do it. Would I do it now? Yes. But did I do it then? No.”
Hubbard acknowledged that he sought to cover up the abuse because of concerns about “scandal and respect for the priesthood.”
The former bishop also confirmed that many of the records documenting the sexual abuse allegations were kept in secret files, per Canon Law, and that only he and other top church officials would have access to those documents. He said the sealed files included allegations of abuse as well as records on priests accused of other forms of wrongdoing, such as financial misconduct or alcohol abuse.
Hubbard testified that he had no idea how many of the files are in the possession of the diocese — kept in a locked room at the chancery in Albany.
“I had no idea because I was only in that room once. It was when I was bishop emeritus,” he said, referring to the period after his retirement in 2014. “And when I wanted the sealed file, I would ask the chancellor to get the file and bring it to me. But I was only in the room itself once. I had no idea how many files were in that room.”
Hubbard added that he would review the sealed files “when there was a report of misconduct on the part of a priest … to see if there was anything prior that would substantiate a report that I received.”
The deposition, which was released after attorneys removed the names of alleged victims, confirms the efforts by the former bishop and the diocese to conceal incidents of sexual abuse when Hubbard headed the religious organization from 1977 to 2014.
“The transcript of Bishop Hubbard’s testimony which is being released today will be read with horror by the public,” said Cynthia S. LaFave, an attorney representing dozens of alleged victims. “The public will see the culpability of the diocese in perpetuating a culture of sex abuse by priests that was allowed to continue for decades. Now the public will understand not only what happened but how it happened. Now the public will see the responsibility the diocese and Bishop Hubbard bear for the atrocity of protecting this institution over the children.”
LaFave, along with Anderson other attorneys for dozens of alleged victims, argued to a judge in January that the reasons supporting a protective order that had kept Hubbard’s deposition sealed — including the risk of pre-trial prejudice — were no longer valid after the former bishop made allegedly misleading statements in an opinion piece published by the Times Union in which he defended the diocese’s handling of abuse complaints.
Hubbard said that between 1977 and 2002, he had received reports of 11 priests accused of sexually abusing children. Attorneys for alleged victims contend he confronted the priests accused of child sexual abuse; many were sent for treatment but allowed to return to ministry without the former bishop warning parishioners of their dangerous propensities.
In a case involving Mark Haight, a priest who was removed from ministry in 1996, Hubbard had denied being aware of sexual abuse allegations that were leveled against him in the late 1970s, when Hubbard was bishop. But the former bishop’s testimony was contradicted by records and the testimony of other priests who said he had been aware of Haight’s alleged sexual abuse of children.
According to court records, Hubbard asked Haight around 1980 to attend an in-patient treatment program, but that the priest instead took a leave of absence. Haight, who lives in Schenectady, has been accused of raping and sexually abusing multiple children, some of them hundreds of times over a course of years, while he was moved from church to church within the diocese.
In 1997, the diocese paid a settlement of nearly $1 million to one of Haight’s alleged victims.
Matthew J. Kelly, an attorney for a Long Island man who filed a lawsuit against Haight and the diocese under the Child Victims Act, said that Ronald A. Menty, a priest in the Albany diocese, gave a statement indicating that he had told Hubbard about Haight’s alleged abuse of children at St. Patrick’s Church in Troy in 1978. Hubbard has claimed he didn’t learn of Haight’s alleged abusive behavior until 1991.
“The Father Menty memo reflects the notice to the church in 1978 of the fact that Haight was a predator. He was not turned over to the police but merely transferred to a new place where he could do the same,” Kelly said. “And when he went for treatment in 1985, the church removed the records following which he met up with my client who suffered abuse (through 1991 and 1992). All the while, the diocese would not tell the ‘whole truth’ to its members.”
Anderson said the judge’s decision to release the deposition of the bishop emeritus “sends a clear message that neither Bishop Hubbard nor the diocese can hide from the diocese’s sordid history.”
Hubbard also testified about his reluctance to adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy for child sexual abuse perpetrators, and he acknowledged that despite the diocese keeping the sealed files on priests accused of child sex abuse, he did not review the files kept by his predecessor to confirm whether any priests active in ministry during his tenure were child predators.
“Additionally, Bishop Hubbard testified he received information regarding the scope of the problem of clergy sexual abuse at a gathering of bishops in 1985, but took no additional measures to protect children before 2002 — apart from implementing a sexual misconduct policy in 1993 that allowed him to return perpetrator priests to ministry following treatment and did not mandate that allegations be reported to law enforcement,” Anderson and LaFave said in a statement.
Two weeks before the op-ed was published by the Times Union in August, Hubbard had told the newspaper he was a leader in the church on fighting abuse and had championed policies such as background checks and compensation funds to redress the church’s failures in such cases. He denied that he ever brushed aside abuse.
But Hubbard also acknowledged then that the diocese had kept incidents of abuse secret, including failing to notify the parents of children who had been sexually assaulted.
“There was a sense in those days that these crimes should be handled with a minimum of publicity that might re-victimize a minor,” Hubbard had said, adding that church leaders’ “failure to notify the parish and the public when a priest was removed or restored was a mistake.”
Hubbard is himself among numerous clergy facing allegations of sexually abusing children, but he has denied those accounts. He wrote in his op-ed that the diocese’s response “fell short,” and admitted church officials had failed “to fully understand the impacts on victims and survivors.”
Howard Hubbard abuse allegations
Oct. 13, 2019: Fourth lawsuit alleges sexual abuse by former bishop
Sep. 16, 2019: Former Albany bishop denies second abuse claim
Hubbard has fought the public release of his own deposition. At a hearing on the matter in December, Terence P. O’Connor, Hubbard’s attorney, asserted the bishop’s deposition should remain confidential and “under seal” in order to prevent cases from being “litigated in the press and (leading to a) poisoning of the jury pool.”
“It isn’t to hide it from the public. … Obviously, when the case goes to trial it’s all going to be public,” O’Connor argued before state Supreme Court Justice L. Michael Mackey during the hearing. “The concept of it was … instead of arguing our case in public and instead of having the lawyers go after the different parties in public … instead of trying to position the public to one side or the other, we’d zip it until the time it came to trial.”
But Mackey said Hubbard’s attorney provided “no specifics whatsoever” to support the assertion that releasing the transcript would taint a jury pool.
“Rather than point to any particular testimony that he deems problematic, with an explanation of how he believes it could taint the jury pool, he simply rests his argument on an unsupported and conclusory assertion,” Mackey wrote in his decision handed down earlier this month. “Similarly, the diocese has submitted no evidence of prejudice.”
Attorneys for many of the roughly 300 alleged victims who have filed lawsuits against the diocese or individual priests had cited Hubbard’s public statements to the Times Union last year as a reason to lift the protective order and reject the motion by Hubbard’s attorney that sought to have the deposition sealed. They said the deposition would reveal “misrepresentations” and “one outright lie” in Hubbard’s op-ed.
“There is not only confusion, but I think there is a misunderstanding of very important facts in the public about what went on in the Diocese of Albany over all these years,” Jeffrey M. Herman, an attorney who specializes in sexual abuse cases, told Mackey during the December hearing. “I think the public has the right to know the truth.”
In March 2021 — a month before Hubbard was deposed — the attorneys in the case had agreed to a stipulation that would allow the transcript of his deposition to remain sealed under a protective order.
The unsealing of Hubbard’s deposition was ordered in a case in which a “John Doe” victim is suing the diocese and Our Lady of the Annunciation Parish in Queensbury, one of the parishes where former priest Gary J. Mercure, who is serving more than 25 years in a Massachusetts prison, was found to have raped and sexually abused multiple altar boys.
In Hubbard’s testimony, he acknowledged that Mercure was the only sexually abusive priest he had removed from the clerical state — and that the removal took place only after Mercure had been convicted of rape and sentenced to prison.
Peter J. Saghir, an attorney for another alleged victim in the case against the diocese and Our Lady of Annunciation Parish, filed a motion in court previously saying that Hubbard’s commentary in the Times Union contained “material contradictions to his sworn testimony in an effort to conceal the true nature of his conduct and improperly influence the jury pool” should the cases go to trial.
“Bishop Hubbard represented to the public that most of the allegations received in the 1970s and 1980s involved misconduct that was well beyond the criminal and civil statute of limitations, while the opposite is true,” Saghir wrote.
He added that Hubbard’s claims that he and society in general now better understand the addictive nature of sexual abuse and the lifelong scars for the victims are contradicted by his testimony in the deposition that indicate he was aware of those consequences decades ago, when the abuse was occurring. Saghir said Hubbard acknowledged receiving detailed information from experts who informed him in the 1970s of the lifelong consequences for survivors and the unlikelihood that abusers would strike only once.
Hubbard, “as leader of the diocese, protected and enabled predator priests to continue abusing children despite the risks known to him of re-offending with his self-serving goal of avoiding scandal and preserving the church’s reputation,” Saghir wrote. “He seeks to continue to do the same now through misrepresenting material facts, and contradicting his own sworn testimony to avoid public scrutiny and avoid scandal, while promoting ‘respect for the priesthood.'”