A Bishop Accused
Howard Hubbard Wants His Name Cleared, but Who Should Be Assigned to Investigate?

Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
February 8, 2004

The clergy sex scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church for the last two years has now reached the highest level of the Albany diocese. Bishop Howard Hubbard has been accused by a California man who claims his brother once had a homosexual relationship with the bishop and was driven to suicide by setting fire to his bedroom in the family's Albany home in 1978. On Wednesday, he produced pages from a charred notebook which refer to the alleged relationship.

Bishop Hubbard, who cut short a vacation in Florida to meet with reporters in Albany on Thursday, has denied the allegations or ever knowing the victim. He has refused to step aside while the charges are investigated, saying that would dignify baseless accusations, and he has asked Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne to investigate.

Yet no formal charges of sexual abuse have been leveled, and no specific allegation of a crime -- only a sibling's claim that unraveling events in his brother's life allegedly drove him to suicide. Unless matters change, it would be inappropriate for Mr. Clyne to use his public office to investigate what is essentially a civil matter.

That is not to say it is an inconsequential matter, or one that should be resolved through normal church channels. Too much is at stake here, especially in light of allegations by another person that surfaced on Friday. The bishop wants to clear his name, and the laity want to know the answers to the many questions that these allegations raise. Without an impartial investigation, how are the facts to come out?

One goal of any inquiry into Wednesday's allegations would be to hunt for witnesses or evidence. But there may be no one alive today who could support or refute the charges. The man's parents, whom the brother claims knew of the relationship, are dead, and the evidence might be limited to what has already been put on public display.

The best choice might be for the diocese to hire a special investigator with a national reputation for reconstructing old cases -- a retired prosecutor or judge, for example. The accuser could be given veto power over the choice, to ensure an impartial outcome.

For now, there should be no rush to judgment -- not against Bishop Hubbard, who is entitled to the presumption of innocence, or against the accuser, whose motives some critics are beginning to question. This case may be an old one, but the painful consequences endure to this day. To rashly assess blame will only add to that anguish.


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