Albany bishop asking to be laicized isn’t barred from publicly celebrating sacraments, as he claims

Bishop Hubbard Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard of the Diocese of Albany | Screenshot from 2018 YouTube video

Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard of the Diocese of Albany has asked the Vatican to laicize him, claiming that Church policy prohibits him from publicly exercising his priestly functions while he is under investigation for sexual abuse allegations.

However, the Albany Diocese clarified Monday that Hubbard does retain the freedom to publicly celebrate the sacraments but has voluntarily stopped doing so.

“We would like to correct a point in some reports that said there is a diocesan policy that forbids an accused bishop from sacramental ministry,” the diocese said in a statement.

“A diocesan bishop may regulate, that is, limit, circumscribe, or ban exercise within his diocese of any or all sacramental ministries. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger [the current bishop of Albany] has done so in some cases, but in the case of Bishop Hubbard, it is he alone who voluntarily removed himself from any public celebration of sacraments,” the diocese’s statement said. 

“Our prayers are with Bishop Hubbard for his well-being and with all who accompany him, that all decisions and actions are in accord with God’s plan,” the statement said.

A lawsuit filed in March 2021 alleges that Hubbard molested an 11-year-old boy in 1977. That suit is ongoing. Hubbard maintains his innocence and said he would continue to fight in court to see his name cleared. 

Hubbard wrote about his laicization request in a statement Nov. 18.

“Recently, I asked the Vatican for relief from my obligations as a priest and permission to return to the lay state. In whatever time I have left on this Earth, I hope to be able to serve God and the people of our community as a lay person,” Hubbard wrote. 

“I had hoped that in my retirement I might be able to continue to serve our community as a priest. I am not able to do so, however, because of a church policy that prohibits any priest accused of sexual abuse from functioning publicly as a priest, even if the allegations are false, as they are in my case,” he wrote.

“Despite the impact on me, I still believe this is a sound policy. I implemented it in the Albany Diocese and continue to support it as a necessary means to maintain and restore public confidence in our clergy,” Hubbard continued. “In my particular case, the effect of the policy has been to deprive me of the single greatest joy of my life — serving our community as a Catholic priest in my retirement years.”

Mark Behan, a spokesman for Hubbard who is not connected with the diocese, told CNA Monday that Hubbard did, in fact, voluntarily remove himself from public ministry.

“Bishop Hubbard was referring in his statement to a policy that he implemented in the Albany Diocese when he was bishop. The policy required that a priest accused of sexual abuse of a minor should be removed from active ministry until the matter was resolved,” Behan said.

“Theoretically, he could have ignored the policy. Instead, he chose to impose on himself the same standard he applied to other accused clergy. His decision to abide by the policy denied him the greatest joy in his life — serving as a priest in retirement,” Behan told CNA by email. 

Hubbard, 84, served the Diocese of Albany from 1977 to 2014. He is now retired. 

In July 2021, Hubbard admitted to mishandling sexual abuse allegations against priests while he was bishop, saying that the diocese at one point did not notify law enforcement when allegations were made.

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