Former Albany Bishop Slapped With Fourth Sex Abuse Lawsuit

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by Stephen Wynne  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  October 15, 2019   

Bp. Howard Hubbard no stranger to allegations of abuse and cover-up

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ALBANY, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - For the fourth time since mid-August, Bp. Howard Hubbard has been slapped with a sex abuse lawsuit.

Filed Friday, the complaint alleges that in the late 1980s, Hubbard and a second cleric (now deceased) assaulted an altar boy at St. John the Baptist Church in Chestertown.

"It was horrific abuse," said Peter Saghir, attorney for the unnamed plaintiff. "It was something that has obviously stuck with him."

The suit is the latest in a growing wave of allegations against Hubbard, head of the Albany diocese from 1977–2014.


Sex abuse allegations have been mounting against the bishop since August, when New York's recently passed Child Victims Act opened a one-year "lookback window" allowing all victims of sex abuse to seek civil penalties, regardless of when the assaults occurred.

On Aug. 14, a man identified only as "P.R." filed a lawsuit alleging that, as a teenager, he was groomed and sexually abused by the bishop. 

Two days later, Hubbard issued a statement announcing his temporary withdrawal from public ministry.

Hubbard is no stranger to allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up.

"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."

"I have never sexually abused anyone in my life," he added. "I have trust in the canonical and civil legal processes and believe my name will be cleared in due course."

On Sept. 12, Hubbard was named in a second lawsuit. The complaint alleges that during a weekend poker night, Hubbard and two other priests masturbated on the plaintiff, a female diocesan employee identified as "Harper Doe."

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Bp. Howard Hubbard

"I do not assert that the individuals who have accused me have not been abused," Hubbard responded. "However, I am absolutely certain that I was not their abuser nor ever participated in their abuse."

On Oct. 3, a third lawsuit was filed against the bishop. The plaintiff, now 59, alleges that from 1976 to 1978, Hubbard used his position as bishop to "entice" and "take control of" him in order to sexually assault him.

Hubbard is no stranger to allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up.

In February 2004, former Albany resident Andrew Zalay convened a press conference to announce that in 1978, Bp. Hubbard drove his brother Thomas to suicide by pressuring him into sex.

Zalay explained he had recently discovered his brother's suicide note, which until then his mother had kept hidden out of shame. Zalay shared that Thomas described being groomed and pressured into sex with Bp. Hubbard. He said Hubbard had tried to justify homosexual acts to him by suggesting the Bible defined celibacy as avoiding sexual contact with women. 

Recognizing that homosexual acts are sinful, Thomas rejected the bishop's attempts to excuse the behavior. He explained he wanted to get away from Hubbard and indicated 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.

Hubbard launched an immediate counterattack. The bishop held his own press conference and declared he had been celibate since his ordination in 1963.

During Hubbard's 37-year episcopate, Albany gained a reputation for accepting and promoting gay seminarians and priests.

But Hubbard's claim was soon undermined by allegations involving underage male prostitutes.

Christian convert Andrew Bonneau, for example, stepped forward alleging that, years earlier, as a teenage runaway, 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 came forward out of a sense of Christian duty to protect other vulnerable minors.

Hubbard denied Bonneau's allegations. But shortly after, Judy Berben, wife of deceased Albany police officer Sgt. Joseph W. Berben, testified in a sworn affidavit that in the late 1970s her husband encountered Hubbard parked in Washington Park with an adolescent boy in drag. Sergeant Berben did not arrest Hubbard, owing to his position as bishop.

During Hubbard's 37-year episcopate, Albany gained a reputation for accepting and promoting gay seminarians and priests. The bishop himself was often described as "the ringleader of a homosexual network" operating in his diocese. 

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Hubbard with pro-gay Rochester Bp. Matthew Clark

An undercover investigation by whistleblower Fr. John Minkler found that Hubbard intentionally cultivated an expansive homosexual network in Albany.

Minkler — who died under mysterious circumstances in 2004 — noted 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's observations were corroborated by the testimony of faithful Albany Catholics. Speaking anonymously to The Wanderer's Paul Likoudis in 1991, an Albany priest excoriated Hubbard's "pastoral plan" for the diocese.

"We have planned destructiveness," he lamented. "Bp. Hubbard wants to create a structure where he can appeal to various types — those who want married priests, women priests, homosexual priests."

Hubbard was also soft on clerical sex abuse. 

In August, the Albany Times Union reported: "In 1993, amid the first rumblings of a national awakening to the crisis of after clergy sexual abuse of children, the Albany Diocese formulated a procedure to investigate abusers and protect victims — a policy that notably failed to include a mandate to alert law enforcement."

What's more, diocesan policy "allowed a priest to undergo treatment and be reassigned even if abuse allegations were substantiated."

It is now known that disgraced former Cdl. Theodore McCarrick torpedoed the Dallas Charter by deliberately diluting its accountability provisions. 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.

For his part, 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.
 
Though his amendment failed to pass, three months later, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops consoled Hubbard by appointing him a member of their committee on clerical sex abuse.
 
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