Howard J. Hubbard, oncea lionized “street priest” who at 38 became the nation's youngest bishop and presided over the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., longer than any of his predecessors, then admitted to covering up sex abuse scandals and was himself sued for child sex abuse, died Saturday in Albany. He was 84 years old.
He died in hospital of a stroke, his spokesman Mark Behan said.
Bishop Hubbard, whose upstate New York diocese included more than 300,000 Roman Catholics in 125 parishes in 14 counties, was widely regardedprogressive voicein the church on social issues such as the death penalty and women's ordination, although he unsuccessfully sued the state in 1984.block the approval of two abortion clinicsin the diocese.
But when he resigned in 2014 after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75, becoming a bishop in peace, he admitted in a legal statement and in an interview with The Albany Times Union that the diocese covered up allegations of child sexual abuse by priests to avoided a public scandal.
Police were not notified when priests accused of abuse were sent for treatment, he said, and kept quiet about their return to the ministry after medical experts approved it. At the time, he regretted the lack of transparency.
A statement issued by the bishop's spokesman after his death said: “He had long believed in the promise of rehabilitation and redemption, but in retrospect publicly admitted that the policy was a mistake. He has repeatedly apologized to all those who suffered because of his actions."
Bishop Hubbard himself has been accused of sexual abuse, but has denied the allegations.
In one case, a man filed a civil lawsuit in August 2019 accusing a bishop of sexually abusing him when he was a teenager in the 1990s. A month later, a woman said he and two other priests sexually abused her in the rectory of a Schenectady church in the late 1970s when she was a teenager. He rejected both accusations, although he voluntarily resigned from the parish office.
After the bishop's ouster was announced, Jeff Anderson, a lawyer for one of the people accusing the diocese, said: "Bishop Hubbard's testimony reveals decades of decadence, denial and deception at the peril of so many innocent, trusting children, in his own words."
The Diocese of Albany, like other dioceses in the state, filed for bankruptcy protection after being inundated with lawsuits under a recent state law that allows adults to seek legal remediesfor decades-old allegations of sexual abusechildren.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs accused the diocese, as well as the Archdiocese of New York, which has jurisdiction over the state, of using delay tactics in the hope that elderly victims and witnesses would die before the cases were resolved.
Last year, Bishop Hubbard requested laicization, or official removal from the clergy. The Vatican rejected the request this year, pending a resolution of the allegations against him in seven cases.
This month, heannounced his marriageJennifer Barrie at the civil ceremony. "I could be 91 or 92 before these legal matters are concluded," he wrote in a statement. "In the meantime, I fell in love with a wonderful woman who helped me and took care of me and who believed in me."
In a letter to the diocese, his successor, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, said that while Bishop Hubbard was not allowed to present himself as a priest because of pending charges against him, he was still bound by his vow of celibacy and could not marry. His marriage to Mrs. Barrie is not recognized by the Church, Bishop Scharfenberger said.
After Bishop Hubbard's death, Bishop Scharfenberger said in a statement: “Priests are called to sanctify, to 'make holy', to lift others up to God. As all priests are human, broken human beings, in need of redemption from their own sins, we also pray for those who have been hurt or wounded in any way by any priest they have encountered."
When he announced his retirement in 2013 in response to allegations of sexual abuse, Bishop Hubbard said, “I tried to be a disciple of Jesus and a compassionate shepherd. I didn't always succeed, but I tried my best."
In a statement issued on his behalf after his death, he said: "While the pain I felt as a falsely accused individual is great, it can never come close to the devastation experienced by victims of sexual abuse committed by priests or others in positions of authority in our society .”
Howard James Hubbard Jr. was born Oct. 31, 1938, in Troy, N.Y., northeast of Albany. His father was a government accountant. His mother, Elizabeth (Burke) Hubbard, was a secretary in a shirt manufacturing company.
He grew up in nearby Lansingburgh, and graduated in philosophy from St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. He earned a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and was ordained a priest in Rome in 1963. He later studied at the Catholic University of America in Washington.
In 1966, at the request of the Auxiliary Bishop of Albany, he founded Providence House to serve the poor and later founded Hope House, a drug addiction treatment center. He was the founding president of LIVCORP, which provided group homes for people with developmental disabilities, and president of the Albany Area Urban League.
When in 1977 Pope Paul VI. appointed bishop, for one year he was diocesan vicar general, the bishop's highest deputy. He was the first bishop of the Diocese of Albany to be born in the Capital Region.
As a bishop, he supported a program to supply intravenous drug users with clean syringes; in the mid-1960s called on white Catholics to acknowledge and apologize for racism against blacks; and led a reconciliation service for Christians and Jews on Palm Sunday 1986.
In 2004, Bishop Hubbard was accused of having an affair with a man who died by suicide in 1978.He denied the relationship, and a former federal prosecutor, hired by the diocese, said she foundthere is no credible evidencethat he had inappropriate sexual relations, led a homosexual lifestyle or violated the vow of celibacy.
Bishop Hubbard said after the wedding that the policy barring a priest from acting while allegations of sexual abuse were pending, even false ones, had deprived him of "the greatest joy of my life — serving our community as a Catholic priest in my retirement years."
"I hope and pray that I live long enough to see my name cleared once and for all," he added.
Ahead of his retirement, he said he expected to be buried in the last remaining niche in the crypt of Albany's Immaculate Conception Cathedral, where other bishops are buried. But a spokeswoman for the diocese said this week that Bishop Hubbard had instead chosen to be buried next to his parents at the Troy cemetery.
Sam Roberts, an obituary reporter, was previously The Times' urban affairs correspondent and is the host of "The New York Times Close Up," a weekly news and interview program on CUNY-TV. More about Sam Roberts
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