Accused NY Bishop Withdraws From Public Ministry

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by Stephen Wynne  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  August 22, 2019   

Bp. Howard Hubbard claims innocence in face of sex abuse allegations

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ALBANY, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Albany Bp. Emeritus Howard Hubbard is on leave after being slapped with a sex abuse lawsuit.

On Aug. 16, Bp. Hubbard issued a statement announcing that he will temporarily withdraw from public ministry.

"This is a profoundly painful step," he said. "I have been a priest for 55 years. My ministry is my life. But stepping aside temporarily now is the right thing to do."

The announcement came two days after Hubbard was named in a lawsuit alleging he "used his position as a priest to groom and to sexually abuse" a teenage boy from 1994–1998.

In his statement, the bishop denied the allegation: "I have never sexually abused anyone in my life. I have trust in the canonical and civil legal processes and believe my name will be cleared in due course."


In spite of his claim of innocence, Hubbard remains suspect in the eyes of many observers, who note the suit marks the third time the bishop has been accused of sexual misconduct.

In February 2004, former Albany resident Andrew Zalay publicly accused Hubbard of driving his brother Thomas to suicide by pressuring him into sex.

Zalay explained that he had recently discovered his brother's suicide note, which until then his mother had kept hidden out of shame.

Reportedly, Thomas described being groomed and pressured into sex with the bishop and said Hubbard had tried to justify homosexual acts to him by suggesting the Bible defined celibacy as avoidance of sexual contact with women. 

Under Hubbard, the diocese of Albany became a hotbed of homosexuality and a predator's playground.

But Thomas rejected the bishop's attempts to excuse the behavior. In his letter, he said that he wanted to get away from Hubbard, and indicated that he felt the only way to escape the bishop's grasp was suicide. On April 19, 1978, Thomas set himself ablaze at his parent's home in Albany.

In response to Zalay's allegation, Hubbard convened a press conference, during which he declared that he had been celibate since his ordination in 1963.

But the bishop's claim was soon countered by allegations involving underage male prostitutes. Former teenage runaway Anthony Bonneau stepped forward alleging that, years earlier, he twice had sex with Hubbard in Washington Park, one of Albany's gay cruising hotspots. Bonneau said he was troubled by Hubbard's denial and, as a convert to Christianity, came forward out of a sense of moral duty to protect other vulnerable minors.

According to whistleblower Fr. John Minkler, during his nearly 40 years as bishop (1977–2014), Hubbard intentionally cultivated an expansive homosexual network inside the diocese of Albany.

In a 1995 letter to New York Cdl. John O'Connor, Fr. Minkler warned that while rejecting spiritually and psychologically healthy young men, "the diocese regularly accepts and ordains seminarians who have been dropped by other dioceses because of their homosexual activity."

Minkler, who later died under mysterious circumstances, named more than a dozen actively homosexual clerics operating in Albany at that time, including multiple parish priests, the diocesan priest-personnel director, the judicial vicar, the chancellor, a vicar general — and Bp. Hubbard himself. He went to describe what he'd been told by various diocesan insiders:

  • "In recent years an Albany physician who works with AIDS patients stated that within a four-month period she encountered two recently diagnosed AIDS patients, who were unknown to each other. They informed her with almost identical stories about their involvement with a ring of homosexual Albany priests which also included Bishop Hubbard."
  • "A permanent deacon at the Cathedral in Albany where Bishop Hubbard has been residing for the last few years has seen the Bishop leaving and returning very late at night, dressed in cut-off shorts and tank tops. He states that the Bishop keeps very much to himself, is very secretive, and that he feels that the Bishop is living a double life."
  • "Recently a young priest was told by his pastor, a young priest his same age and homosexual, that he should not become so upset over the conduct of the Albany clergy. The pastor stated that the reason he was pastor of a good parish and his first pastorate was due to the fact that Bishop Hubbard favors the young homosexual priests. He went on to state that Bishop Hubbard himself has had homosexual experiences in the past and is currently involved with two young priests, namely, Fathers Thomas Chevalier and Patrick Butler, both of whom were made pastors of very good parishes at an early age. As a seminarian, Patrick Butler was invited to vacation at Cape Cod with Bishops Hubbard and Clark [of Rochester] along with Father Thomas Powers." 

Under Hubbard, the diocese of Albany became a hotbed of homosexuality and a predator's playground. In light of this, the bishop's response to the clerical sex abuse crisis has raised more than a few eyebrows.

In June, 49-year-old Michael Harmon went public with allegations that as a boy, he was repeatedly abused by former diocesan priest Fr. Edward Pratt. After suffering in silence for five years, at age 16, he revealed the abuse to Bp. Hubbard. Reportedly, Hubbard responded by threatening to throw Harmon into jail. 

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Michael Harmon

"I told Bishop Hubbard that Father Pratt's been touching me," Harmon told Albany's NewsChannel 13. "I said, 'I need help, I don't know what to do, I need somebody to help,' and that's when he said, '…if I ever hear you again, say anything to anybody I will have you arrested.'" 

Only in 2002 — amid the first wave of the clerical sex abuse crisis — did Hubbard remove Fr. Pratt from ministry.

That same year, Hubbard played a dubious role at the U.S. bishops' Dallas meeting on clerical sex abuse.

It is now known that serial sexual predator Theodore McCarrick torpedoed the Dallas Charter establishing provisions to better protect minors from predator priests. Together with allies among his brother bishops, McCarrick deliberately diluted the Dallas Charter, tailoring the documents to protect himself and others like him after decades of abusing seminarians. In the original draft, the provisions bound all "clerics" — not just priests and deacons, but bishops, as well. But the Dallas Charter was redesigned to exclude bishops from accountability, critics say, precisely because the bishops wanted it that way.

But Hubbard fought even the watered-down Dallas Charter draft. The only bishop to oppose the document's "zero-tolerance" provisions, he floated an amendment that would have allowed "discretion" in handling predator priests.
 
His amendment didn't pass, but three months later, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops consoled Hubbard by appointing him to their committee on sexual abuse.
 
Nearly two decades later, and more than a year into the second wave of the clerical abuse crisis, the former bishop of Albany has withdrawn from view to fight the accusations against him.
 
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