The Evangelist [Diocese of Albany NY]

November 18, 2022

By Mike Matvey

Bishop Emeritus Howard J. Hubbard of the Diocese of Albany has asked the Vatican on Nov. 18 to be returned “to the lay state.”

“I am 84 years of age and fully retired from ministry. I had hoped that in my retirement I might be able to continue to serve our community as a priest. I am not able to do so, however, because of a church policy that prohibits any priest accused of sexual abuse from functioning publicly as a priest, even if the allegations are false, as they are in my case,” Bishop Hubbard said in statement released to the media by Behan Communications. “Despite the impact on me, I still believe this is a sound policy.  I implemented it in the Albany Diocese and continue to support it as a necessary means to maintain and restore public confidence in our clergy. In my particular case, the effect of the policy has been to deprive me of the single greatest joy of my life – serving our community as a Catholic priest in my retirement years.

“Recently, I asked the Vatican for relief from my obligations as a priest and permission to return to the lay state. In whatever time I have left on this Earth, I hope to be able to serve God and the people of our community as a lay person. I also will continue to vigorously defend myself against the allegations against me. Resolution of these civil cases takes a very long time. I hope and pray I will live long enough to see my name cleared once and for all.

“Serving our Church and the people of the Albany Diocese has been the greatest blessing of my life. My heart is filled to overflowing with gratitude to my brother priests and dear religious, and the lay people, community leaders, and people of other religious traditions with whom I worked in 60 years of ministry.  The kindness, friendship and encouragement they extended to me remains a wonderful, sustaining grace and a blessing that I appreciate beyond all measure. They will be in my prayers forever.

“While the pain that I have felt as an individual falsely accused is great, it can never approach the devastation experienced by victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy or others in a position of authority in our society. I also continue to pray daily for the children, adults and families who have suffered that they will experience healing and reconciliation.”

The Diocese of Albany offered “prayers” for Bishop Hubbard as well as a correction as it relates to diocesan policy on Nov. 19.

“We are aware of the various reports that have emerged regarding Bishop Howard Hubbard’s request to return to the lay state. Our prayers are with Bishop Hubbard for his well-being and with all who accompany him, that all decisions and actions are in accord with God’s plan,” the statement read. “Prayers also continue for all impacted by this news. As a Church let us stand together, pray together, and walk together, in faith, believing that healing is possible. The needs are many, from the abused, to those in our family of faith who are angry that this happened, also those who don’t understand, and to the abusers. As the body of Christ, we are called to pray for all.

“We would like to correct a point in some reports that said there is a diocesan policy that forbids an accused bishop from sacramental ministry. A diocesan bishop may regulate, that is, limit, circumscribe, or ban exercise within his diocese of any or all sacramental ministries. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger has done so in some cases, but in the case of Bishop Hubbard, it is he alone who voluntarily removed himself from any public celebration of sacraments.

“Healing is possible but it will take time. Let us have the hope to move forward, one step at a time, to work together, as a community in Christ, walking with Christ, caring for each other, sharing His love. “

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, laicization is “the process by which a priest is returned to the lay state. It is sometimes used as a penalty for a serious crime or scandal, but more often it comes at the request of the priest. A laicized priest is barred from all priestly ministry with one exception: He may give absolution to someone in immediate danger of death. 

“The pope must approve all requests for laicization. When a priest is laicized without his consent, for a crime such as living in concubinage, committing child sexual abuse or using the confessional to solicit sex, it is sometimes called defrocking or unfrocking. Those terms, which are not used in church law, should be restricted to forcible laicizations, since they connote a penalty.”

On May 2, the Vatican permanently removed from priestly ministry a retired priest of the Diocese of Toledo – Nelson Beaver – who was accused of multiple allegations of sexually abusing a minor. Former U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who had been credibly accused of abuse against seminarians and boys for years, was laicized in February 2019 in an unprecedented move by the Vatican. At the time, the Vatican said McCarrick was found guilty of “solicitation in the sacrament of confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

Bishop Hubbard, who was bishop of the Diocese of Albany from 1977-2014, has been accused of sexual abuse of children and has been named in several lawsuits under the Child Victims Act (CVA). Bishop Hubbard – who was involved in a car accident July 19 in which it was determined that he suffered a stroke – has vehemently denied he abused anyone saying in 2019 after he was named in a second lawsuit, that “I have never sexually abused anyone of any age at any time.” 

In March, as first reported in the Times Union, in deposition testimony that was made public March 25, Bishop Hubbard was questioned by an attorney representing people who had filed claims of abuse against the Diocese of Albany under the CVA. Asked why he did not report a suspected case of child sexual abuse to law enforcement when he was bishop after a priest allegedly admitted to him that he had abused a child, Bishop Hubbard replied, “Because I was not a mandated reporter. 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.”

In response to the story, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, who was installed as the 10th bishop of Albany after Bishop Hubbard retired in 2014, wrote a letter to the faithful of the Diocese, saying “Each of us no doubt is reacting in different ways about revelations in the Times Union piece. I know I am not the only one who must deal with the reactions or the worry for a new wave of suffering for survivors and their families. All of us bear a burden of trying to help others even as we cope personally with our own pain and sorrow. …

“Yes, this will hurt as we move forward. We all hurt to see the impact on our Church and on our people, on survivors and families, on the relationships we may have with Bishop Hubbard. We will need time to pray and grieve. Don’t take this on alone. Take time to rest and pray. Remember how often Jesus himself did this and invited his Apostles to join him. All Catholics are upset. But it is much better that we can express our anger or grief than that we walk away. This is how families heal.”