Former Albany bishop says he returned priests accused of abuse to ministry without involving law enforcement

Bishop Hubbard Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard of Albany | Catholic News Agency

In a deposition released March 25, the former Bishop of Albany admitted that he did not report several instances of alleged sexual abuse of minors by priests, instead choosing to keep the allegations quiet and to refer the priests for treatment. 

Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard, who led the diocese from 1977 until 2014, is himself facing allegations of abuse — which he denies — as well as numerous lawsuits filed under New York’s 2019 Child Victims Act. That legislation set up a one-year window, since extended until August 2021, for clergy sex abuse lawsuits in cases where the statute of limitations had previously expired.

Hubbard returned to active ministry several priests who were accused of abuse and underwent treatment.

The deposition was done in 2021 as part of Hubbard’s response to the Child Victims Act lawsuits. According to the Associated Press, Hubbard testified he didn’t report the allegations to law enforcement because he didn’t feel he was required by law to do so, and instead kept the allegations secret out of concern for “scandal and the respect of the priesthood.” 

Hubbard has defended his response to abuse cases, saying that it was “common practice” in the 1970s and ‘80s to act as he did, though he acknowledged that his failure to notify the parish and the public when a priest was removed from or restored to ministry was a “mistake.” 

Writing in August 2021, he said that sending priests to “nationally accredited treatment facilities rather than reporting the allegations to local law enforcement authorities” was the “common practice” in the 1970s and ‘80s, and that in a majority of the cases “the victims themselves did not want to make the matter public and many times sought confidentiality through their attorneys.”

“While we never condoned, ignored or took lightly sexual abuse of minors, we did not respond as quickly, as knowledgeably and as compassionately as we should have, and for that I am sincerely sorry,” Hubbard wrote in 2021. 

“My most fervent prayer each day is that victim/survivors and their families will find healing, reconciliation and peace in God’s love and that we as a church and a society will learn from this tragedy.”

Hubbard currently faces a Vos estis investigation, a Vatican-ordered investigation into allegations that he committed sexual abuse. The 2019 document Vos estis lux mundi contained Pope Francis’ norms for investigating allegations of episcopal misconduct. 

An anonymous plaintiff in March filed a lawsuit against Hubbard, alleging that Hubbard molested him in 1977, soon after his installation as bishop. The lawsuit named the diocese as well as St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Clifton Park, New York.

The diocesan communications director told CNA at the time of the lawsuit that Hubbard maintained he had never abused a child.

Under Vos estis, bishops accused of sexual abuse are investigated by their metropolitan, who in this case is Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. 

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