Times Union [Albany NY]
July 26, 2022
By Brendan J. Lyons
Edward B. Scharfenberger has agreed to meet on the steps of Corpus Christi Church in Round Lake, where the man said he met the former priest who abused him as a boy
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger has agreed to meet on the steps of Corpus Christi Church in Round Lake on Sunday with a 47-year-old man who was allegedly sexually abused as a child by a former priest.
The unprecedented encounter — which is scheduled to take place before Scharfenberger presides over an 11 a.m. Mass at the church — was arranged after the alleged victim, Stephen Mittler, wrote a letter inviting the Albany bishop and other officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany to follow through on their pledge to “walk with the survivors.”
In June, the diocese agreed to pay $750,000 to Mittler to settle a lawsuit he had filed under New York’s Child Victims Act. It had been the first case against the diocese scheduled for trial under the law that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations to give alleged victims of sexual abuse a two-year window to file claims against their abusers or the institutions that harbored them.
Scharfenberger “remains committed to walking with any survivor who will permit him to do so, to listen and to learn, so that no one may be on this journey toward healing alone,” said Kathryn Barrans, a spokeswoman for the diocese.
Mittler’s lawsuit was filed against the diocese and 73-year-old Mark A. Haight, of Schenectady, a former priest who was ordained in 1976 and stands accused of sexually abusing multiple boys for more than a decade. Haight, who will pay an additional $2,000 to Mittler under the settlement, was shuffled through parishes and schools before his final post at Glens Falls Hospital.
In an interview Tuesday, Mittler said that diocesan officials had recently acknowledged that although the bishop had pledged to “walk with survivors” that had not yet occurred.
“I think it’s an opportunity for the bishop to really have a moment with a survivor and do it publicly,” Mittler said, adding that Corpus Christi is the church where he and his family were introduced to Haight — on the same steps where Mittler plans to meet with Scharfenberger.
Mittler said that on the day he met Haight, in August 1988, the priest took him for a ride in his small plane — where he had been accused of sexually abusing other boys. Mittler said the rape and molestation began that fall after a period of “grooming” and continued until 1990, when Haight was sent for treatment in New Mexico. Mittler said when Haight returned from that treatment, he continued to sexually abuse him until he was a senior in high school.
Last weekend, Pastor George Fleming informed his congregation at Corpus Christi Church about the bishop’s scheduled visit. He called it “a very poignant moment in the history of our diocese and our church” and encouraged attendance.
Abuse allegations surfaced at nearly every assignment where Haight was posted, according to court records. The church’s response, as it was in many other instances of alleged child sexual abuse by priests, was to keep moving Haight rather than contacting police or terminating him.
Haight was removed around 1997 from his post at Glens Falls Hospital, where he had worked for nearly seven years without the diocese informing hospital officials of his history. Haight resigned from the priesthood that year, not long after the diocese paid two settlements to his victims. One of the payments included $997,500 made to a man who said he had been abused by the priest as a teenager in the 1970s and ’80s.
Records disclosed by the diocese during the pre-trial discovery phase of Mittler’s case indicate former Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, who also stands accused of sexually abusing children, had twice sent Haight to treatment programs at facilities used by the Catholic church to treat sexually abusive clergy: House of Affirmation in California in 1985 and Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico in 1989.
Diocesan officials, including Hubbard, claimed two decades ago that Haight was working at St. Joseph’s Church in Scotia when the first sexual abuse complaint was lodged against him in 1989.
But testimony and the records turned over by the diocese during pre-trial discovery indicate that Hubbard and church leaders had received their first sexual misconduct complaint against Haight not long after he was ordained more than a decade earlier. In 1980, rather than seek treatment for alleged pedophilia as Hubbard directed, Haight took a five-year leave of absence from the church and landed a job teaching children. The former bishop, according to court records, wrote a letter of recommendation for the priest without mentioning his sexual abuse history.
It was after Haight had been sent to a treatment program and returned to ministry that he allegedly sexually abused Mittler.
Haight was never prosecuted for alleged wrongdoing and is not on any sexual offender registries. His residence in Schenectady is three blocks from a middle school. Mittler said the former priest has never offered him an apology.
But in August, Mittler said that Michael L. Costello, a longtime attorney for the diocese, offered him an apology during a pre-trial deposition. Mittler said that Costello told him: “I want to extend, on behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese … a sincere apology for the physical, psychological, (and) spiritual anguish that you have experienced associated with the abuse by defendant Haight.”
Mittler settled his case with the diocese just before it was announced the 14-county organization would seek to set up a mediation program to compensate victims rather than engage in protracted litigation, which could prompt it to file for bankruptcy. The diocese and attorneys for alleged victims subsequently negotiated the mediation plan that will be used to compensate the roughly 400 alleged victims of sexual abuse who have pending claims.
In a deposition last year, when Hubbard was asked about the practice of moving priests accused of sexual abuse to other parishes or assignments after some had received treatment, he acknowledged that the diocese did that instead of calling police.
“Well, as we’ve testified before, if a priest was accused of sexual abuse and we determined that the allegation was credible, then we would send the priest for treatment and then determine upon what the recommendations of the treatment facility are,” Hubbard testified. “He would either return or not return.”
The former bishop also said the strategy of not contacting law enforcement or warning parishioners of abuse allegations was intended to avoid scandal and preserve “respect for the priesthood.”
Brendan J. Lyons is a managing editor for the Times Union overseeing the Capitol Bureau and investigations. Lyons joined the Times Union in 1998 as a crime reporter before being assigned to the investigations team. He became editor of the investigations team in 2013 and began overseeing the Capitol Bureau in 2017. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-454-5547.