Catholic Bishop in Albany, N.Y., Makes Unusual Request to Be Defrocked

Wall Street Journal [New York NY]

November 19, 2022

By Francis X. Rocca

Retired Bishop Hubbard, facing sex-abuse allegations that he denies, asks to be removed from priesthood

The retired Catholic bishop of Albany, N.Y. has taken the extraordinary step of asking Pope Francis to remove him from the priesthood, saying he is unable to minister as a clergyman because of sex-abuse allegations that he denies.

Bishop Howard Hubbard, 84, said in a statement on Friday that he had “asked the Vatican for relief from my obligations as a priest and permission to return to the lay state.”

The Vatican didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Laicization, or the process of removal from the clergy, is extremely rare in the case of bishops, and even more so at a bishop’s own request. Release from the obligation of celibacy, which binds most priests and all bishops in the Catholic Church, is a separate step.

Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 laicized Fernando Lugo, who had resigned three years earlier as bishop of San Pedro, Paraguay, to pursue political office. Mr. Lugo served as president of Paraguay from 2008 to 2012.

Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, of Washington, D.C., in 2019 became the first cardinal in modern times to be removed from the priesthood, after the Vatican found him guilty of sexual abuse of minors and sexual misconduct with adults. Mr. McCarrick has denied wrongdoing.

Bishop Hubbard said in his statement that he had hoped to continue serving as a priest in retirement but was prohibited by church policy from functioning publicly as a priest because of abuse allegations, which he denies.

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Albany, Kathryn Barrans, said in a statement that, while a bishop may restrict the ministry of a priest, “in the case of Bishop Hubbard, it is he alone who voluntarily removed himself from any public celebration of sacraments.”

A spokesman for Bishop Hubbard, Mark Behan, said, “Bishop Hubbard did voluntarily remove himself from ministry consistent with the policy he implemented as bishop.”

He was accused in 2019 of abusing a teenager in the 1990s. Bishop Hubbard has also been accused of mishandling cases of alleged abuse by other clerics. In a 2021 court deposition made public earlier this year, the bishop admitted that he had sent accused abusers into treatment without notifying police, to protect the reputation of the church and because he wasn’t legally required to make such reports.

Mr. Behan said that “Bishop Hubbard has categorically denied ever sexually abusing any one of any age at any time.”

Mr. Behan said the bishop maintains that he “followed the advice he received from medical and legal professionals when dealing with priests accused of abuse…When the Diocese, under his direction, adopted a policy requiring that all abuse allegations be reported to law enforcement, he followed the policy.”

Mr. Behan also noted a 2004 report by a former federal prosecutor, commissioned by the diocese’s sexual-misconduct review board, which cleared the bishop after he was accused of sexual misconduct.

His successor as leader of the Albany diocese, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, said in a statement that the news of his predecessor’s request “may be shocking and painful for clergy and laypersons who know and love Bishop Hubbard and have appreciated his many years of ministry.”