A Fair Price for Faith in Hubbard

By Fred LeBrun
Times Union [Albany NY]
August 8, 2004

Six weeks ago, former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White released with great hoopla the results of an extensive investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by Bishop Howard Hubbard, leader of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese.

Her report is 200 pages of excruciating, often embarrassing detail. It took four months to prepare.

Her conclusion was that there is no credible evidence the bishop was guilty of homosexual activity, or broke his vows of celibacy, or had sexual relations with anyone. The ruthlessly analytical report is all about sex, or the lack of it.

Now comes the price of vindication. The diocese was presented with a $2.2 million bill last week by White's Manhattan law firm, Debevoise and Plimpton, for services rendered.

There is apt to be an audible gulp over the amount by those who ultimately pay it, the faithful of the 14-county diocese.

There's no indication the bishop won't sign off on the payment. White said her law firm will direct a substantial portion of the fee into a fund for the relief of victims sexually abused by priests, which does take a bit of the sting out. White said that during the course of the investigation, which took interviewers all over the country, she was moved by the suffering endured by abuse victims.

So was it money well spent?

Incredibly, I believe it was. I was unconvinced initially that White's high-profile investigation would resolve anything in the court of public opinion because the bishop was in essence paying to have himself investigated. I was wrong.

It strikes me that during the long moment between the release of the report and presentation of the bill, the momentum clearly shifted in favor of Bishop Hubbard and his credibility.

That's thanks in large part to the exquisite detail of White's report and the enormity of the resources brought to bear, which, done right, costs big money no matter who does it. Every lead was checked out, to exhaustion.

Does the report silence all of Hubbard's critics? Certainly not. But what's pleasantly surprising to me is the extent to which the report seems to have answered the troubling questions and doubts of the majority. The sense I get from calls, notes and news stories is that White indeed has helped lift a veil of concern that has hovered over Bishop Hubbard for more than a year.

The bishop's number one critic, attorney John Aretakis, understandably doesn't see it that way. He's quite disdainful of the White report, calling it "nothing but fiction."

"If Mary Jo White was truly independent, she would have found Bishop Hubbard guilty of allowing significant depravity among his priests," he said Friday.

Mary Jo White's assignment, however, was to investigate a litany of specific charges against the bishop, not to undertake an analysis of sexual abuse in the diocese. The latter is an enormously hurtful issue that still haunts the diocese, and will, says spokesman Father Ken Doyle, "until every voice is heard." Aretakis says he is shifting his attention exclusively to his clients who are alleging sexual abuse by priests from the Albany diocese. He said he represents "between 90 and 100 abused by the diocese."

But at the moment, John Aretakis' credibility is at an all-time low, thanks again to Mary Jo White's report.

At least parishioners got a two-fer for their $2.2 million. An exonerated bishop, and a discredited accuser all in the same report.

As the ad says, priceless.

Fred LeBrun can be reached at 454-5453.


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