Investigation Clears Bishop of Sex Abuse Charges

By Ed Griffin-Nolan
National Catholic Reporter [Albany NY]
July 13, 2004

An investigation into allegations of homosexual conduct and sexual abuse by Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard has found no evidence to support charges of homosexual activity and sexual abuse three decades ago. The investigation, conducted by a team led by former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, included a polygraph test, which the bishop passed, and more than 300 interviews over the course of four months. The polygraph test indicated that Hubbard was being truthful when he insisted that he had honored his vow of celibacy and had never had sex "of any kind" with another person.

The extraordinary report was delivered June 24 to the Sexual Misconduct Review Board of the diocese, which hired White in February after Andrew Zalay of California claimed that his brother, Thomas, had had an ongoing sexual relationship with the bishop. Thomas Zalay died in 1968 in a house fire, which fire officials believe he intentionally set. Hubbard denied the affair, saying he had no memory of ever meeting Zalay.

Zalay's accusations were followed two days later by charges from Anthony Bonneau, a 40-year-old former prostitute from Schenectady, that Hubbard had paid him for sex in an Albany park when Bonneau was a teen. Investigators found no credible evidence to support Bonneau's claim, and suggested that an unnamed gay priest who was known to refer to himself as "the bishop" might have been Bonneau's actual client.

A third accusation, that Hubbard was part of a clique of gay priests in Albany and had sexual relationships with four other priests, was also shot down. All four priests and the bishop were given lie detector tests by the former chief polygraph expert at the FBI and their denials were deemed truthful. As charges multiplied, the investigation morphed and led to the bizarre scene of two bishops, Hubbard and Matthew Clark of Rochester, each being hooked up to polygraph machines and being asked, among other things, if they had ever had sex with each other.

The investigators found that the source of the anonymous letters charging that Hubbard led a secret double life was Fr. John Minkler, a military chaplain at the VA hospital in Albany who had long sought to damage Hubbard's reputation.

Minkler died days after he was exposed as the source of a 1995 letter to Cardinal John O'Connor defaming Hubbard. Minkler's death was later ruled a suicide.

All three complaints were brought to public attention through the efforts of attorney John Aretakis, who has represented a number of clients who have accused the diocese of protecting predatory priests. Aretakis charged from the start that White's investigation would be biased against his clients, and refused to make them available for White's investigation. In her report, White indicated that the refusal of Aretakis' clients to speak with her investigators considerably lengthened the proceedings, and added to their cost. The diocese is paying for the investigation.

There have been no criminal investigations due to the age of the claimants and the statute of limitations. Aretakis claimed that since White was hired by the diocese, her exoneration of the bishop was a foregone conclusion.

Hubbard, 65, has been bishop of the sprawling Albany diocese since 1977. His support of greater participation of the laity and women, his openness to rethinking mandatory celibacy, and his reputation as an advocate for workers and the poor, have made him popular among many liberal Catholics and drawn fire from conservative groups and, at times, from Rome.

At the bishops' meeting in Dallas in 2002, Hubbard supported case-by-case review of older claims of sexual abuse by priests instead of the "zero-tolerance" policy eventually adopted.

After the report clearing him was released, Hubbard issued a statement emphasizing the work the church still needs to do to prevent future abuses and heal the wounds of those who have been victimized.

"The false allegations against me did not materialize in a vacuum," said Hubbard. "They are, at least in part, a product of the rampant anger over the way our church -- and individual church leaders, including myself -- mishandled the problem of clergy sexual abuse of minors in the past. My suffering, as painful as it has been, in no way compares to the pain and anguish of true victims of clergy sexual abuse. For four months, their cause, unfortunately, has been obscured by the false accusations against me."

Ed Griffin-Nolan is a freelance writer in Syracuse, N.Y.


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