Former Albany bishop named among child abuse lawsuits as N.Y. ‘look back’ laws kick in

Former Bishop of Albany Howard Hubbard in a 2009 photo. He was bishop from 1977 to 2014. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Hundreds of lawsuits were filed against Catholic dioceses in New York State on Aug. 14, as a one-year window opened offering victims of child sexual abuse the ability to sue their alleged abusers and institutions they say were negligent in protecting minors.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan in a video message on Twitter noted that Aug. 14 was the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life at the Nazis’ Auschwitz death camp in Poland to spare the life of a young father. The saint, the cardinal said, is revered for his bravery but also for something else: “He kept his faith and hope and love in a very dark time.

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“Today I don't mind admitting to you is a dark time in the life of the church,” Cardinal Dolan said. “You've probably been hearing that this is the first day of the opening of the statute of limitations, so we’re going to hear a lot today about people bringing suit against the Catholic Church and other organizations, public schools, government organizations, Boy Scouts and hospitals ... you name it ... for past sexual abuse.”

Among the dozens of priests named in new lawsuits is at least one bishop, the Most Rev. Howard Hubbard, who led the Diocese of Albany from 1977 to 2014. He is accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing a 16-year-old in the 1990s.

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He added, “It’s especially difficult for our beloved victims and their families to see all this drug up again, to have these wounds reopened. It’s a tough time for our victims, survivors and families and I'd ask you to pray for them.” He also asked for their prayers for others in the archdiocese: “for the overwhelming majority of our great priests who’ve been extraordinarily faithful, virtuous and hardworking in the midst of all this. They suffer.”

Among the dozens of priests named in new lawsuits is at least one bishop, the Most Rev. Howard Hubbard, who led the Diocese of Albany from 1977 to 2014. He is accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing a 16-year-old in the 1990s, charges his lawyer denied, according to a report in the Albany Times Union.

In a statement, the Diocese of Albany said that when it received word of the lawsuit, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger contacted the papal nuncio and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, as is now required by a church law implemented earlier this year.

“While this charge is extremely distressing for the Diocese of Albany, the Bishop Emeritus is entitled to be treated in the same manner as any other priest or deacon who has been accused of abuse,” the statement read. “The diocese has clear policies and procedures in place when such accusations arise, and we expect those to be followed in this case, and in every case.”

Bishop Scharfenberger released a video earlier this week offering support to victims, saying that he and others in the diocese “admire the bravery of those who have come forward to share their stories of betrayal and pain to help other survivors of childhood sexual abuse.”

“In the coming weeks and months, the Diocese of Albany plans to redouble our existing efforts to bring about reconciliation with survivors,” the bishop continued. “We are a wounded family, and we cannot heal unless and until we care for and walk with those among us who have suffered in silence for so long. Today we take the next steps on this long and necessary path.”

The law firm Jeff Anderson and Associates, which has represented many victims of clergy sexual abuse, said in a press release the day before the law went into effect that it had planned to bring more than 200 suits against Catholic dioceses in New York.

More than 80 of those claims are being made against priests from the Diocese of Buffalo. Its leader, the Most Rev. Richard J. Malone, has faced numerous calls for his resignation in recent months because of allegations that he has mishandled cases of sexual abuse. On Wednesday, three priests who are still in ministry were accused of sexual abuse of minors in new lawsuits.

Bishop Malone released a statement on Aug. 13 in which he apologized to victims of sexual abuse. “Our primary concern is to do the right thing for the victim-survivors of abuse and, at the same time, ensure that the mission of our Church continues,” Bishop Malone said.

The law creating the litigation window—the Child Victims Act—passed earlier this year following more than a decade of debate in Albany. The law also extends the statute of limitations for molestation going forward, giving new victims until age 55 to file lawsuits and until age 28 to seek criminal charges, compared to 23 under the old statute.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York said in a statement on Aug. 14 that the archdiocese had been preparing for an influx of new lawsuits since the measure was signed into law in February, “even as we continue to invite people to consider our successful program to bring compensation quickly to qualified claimants through the archdiocesan Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.” The spokesperson, Joseph Zwilling, was referring to a program set up in 2016 by the Archdiocese of New York to pay financial settlements to victims of clergy sexual abuse. The archdiocese said the fund has paid more than $65 million to 323 victims. Other New York dioceses have set up similar funds.

“While we carefully review the claims made in these suits, we ask that people pray for peace and healing for all those who have suffered from the sin and crime of the sexual abuse of minors, wherever it occurred, particularly victim-survivors and their families,” Mr. Zwilling added.

Given the high number of expected allegations, which include claims against Catholic dioceses as well as the Boy Scouts of America and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the State of New York is designating 45 judges to handle the new cases, CNN reported Wednesday.

“The fiscal impact on the Catholic Church and other organizations won’t become clear for weeks or months,” Dennis Poust, director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, the bishops’ public policy arm, said on Aug. 14. “Today is a day for survivors to tell their stories and to take an important step on their long journey toward healing.

“The bishops want to accompany survivors on this journey, to thank them for bravely coming forward, and to again apologize unconditionally for what they endured at the hands of those who so grievously abused their trust,” he said in a statement.

Contending with abuse claims has proven costly for Catholic dioceses; many have filed for bankruptcy since 2002.

In 2017, the Diocese of St. Cloud in Minnesota announced it was filing for bankruptcy after more than 70 civil suits were brought against the diocese during a three-year window that ended in 2016. In California, a one-year window that began in 2003 resulted in payouts of more than $1 billion by Catholic entities.

Seven states—Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming—have no statutes of limitation for felony sex crimes.

Material from The Associated Press and Catholic News Service was used in this report.

The headline and photo for this article have been updated to make it clear that the Most Rev. Howard Hubbard is the former bishop of Albany.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Jones
3 months ago

Well, I am glad to hear from Dolan that he "doesn't mind admitting" that this is a hard day. Leave it to Dolan to say that what is hard for survivors and families is to "have all this drug up again, to have all these wounds reopened". He's like the person who believes you don't mention a friend's deceased child so as to avoid "reminding" them of their grief and loss. Dolan is as buffoonish as they get. My enduring vision of him is from the Fortnight for America a few years when the Archbishop was photographed wearing an enormous green foam hand holding up the index finger in the universal gesture of "We're Number One". I have never seen a more distasteful AND apt symbol of the Catholic Church in the United States. And I have never encountered a less pastoral cleric.

sheila gray
3 months ago

I completely agree. The worst hasn’t even come to light... sexual abuse, and the institutional cover up, of the sexual abuse of minors by Religious Order priests and nuns. I discovered last week that the Archdiocese of Detroit only investigates sexual abuse by Diocesan priests. Any allegations against Religious Order priests and nuns are sent to the Orders to deal with. End of story!!!

J Jones
3 months ago

Hi Sheila - You just cited reason # 5973 people should NOT call these 3rd party reporting lines being created by dioceses. Any and all allegations of abuse should be reported to police NOT the bishops, NOT a group paid for by the bishops, NOT a religious men's or women's community. CALL THE POLICE. If the report is harassment and financial mismanagement, CALL THE LOCAL NEWSPAPER and CALL A LAWYER before EVER talking to anyone employed by or vowed in the Church. And thereafter ALWAYS HAVE WITH YOU AN ADVOCATE SKILLED IN INTERACTING WITH AND DOCUMENTING CORPORATE FUNCTIONARIES TASKED WITH RISK MANAGEMENT. That is who you will become: a risk to be managed by corporate functionaries.

There is ZERO reason to trust the hierarchy to police itself: even as late this last year, meaningful action was taken against McCarrick and Bransfield because the story was told OUTSIDE the Church. CALL THE POLICE. CALL THE PAPER. CALL A LAWYER.

Mike Macrie
3 months ago

I completely agree also, Bishop Nolan was all too eager to condemn Catholic Democratic Politicians on their Political Stances with his outbursts of wanting to deny them the Eucharist and with comments of a Bridge Too Far on Obama Care. I find his political positions hypocritical. He should stay out of Politics and work on cleansing his own House.

david_roccosalva@yahoo.com
3 months ago

Duplicitous Dolan: "He is the only bishop I know of who personally testified against statute of limitation (SOL) reform, which he did while he was Archbishop of Milwaukee. I know because I was there. With a straight face he told lawmakers that the diocese would become “bankrupt” if the SOLs were revived for victims from the past. In the thrall of his presence and his earnest manner, the legislative panel abandoned its previous plans and shelved reform."

arthur mccaffrey
3 months ago

he also politicked against changes in SOL legislation in NY as well.

Rita Ferrone
3 months ago

I seem to recall that Bishop Hubbard was accused before and he was exonerated, if I am remembering correctly. Is this the same accuser? It was around the time that Cardinal Bernardine was accused and the accuser later recanted.

Trent Shannon
2 months 3 weeks ago

Exonerated, or was a jury merely convinced of innocence?

Recanted, or paid out under a nondisclosure agreement?

arthur mccaffrey
3 months ago

this article fails to mention that many RCC financial settlements in the past came with a gag order preventing the victims from ever taking the diocese to court or revealing the terms of the settlement.

Fr. Sean E. O'Brien,OFM
3 months ago

I don't endorse "fake news" ,but to identify Bishop Hubbard with anykind of abuse is the ultimate exception. For over 40 years he served the Albany Diocese with dignity,honor,inclusion and humility. Upon his instillation as bishop in 1977 he sold bishops mansion and in the small cathederal rectory located in the heart of the city. He was a champion and advocate for the poor, marginalized,addicted and without a voice. He had the smell of the sheep in his care,long before Pope Francis mentioned the type of bishops the church needs.While he was beloved by many, his enemies included many conservative,right wing groups like CUFF and Militant Church but he who watchedb him like a hawk. Yet,he always responded as a true shepard. Over 15 years ago he was malitiously accused of abuse in a big fabricated story, only to be cleared of the charges by the infamous Mary Jo White, and the prosecuting attorney disbard. I have the utmost confidence truth will prevail and Howards good standing will be upheld. If we had a few more bishops like him, I dont think we'd be in the mess we are in.

FRAN ABBOTT
2 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you for this information!

Trent Shannon
2 months 3 weeks ago

“It’s especially difficult for our beloved victims and their families to see all this drug up again, to have these wounds reopened. It’s a tough time for our victims, survivors and families and I'd ask you to pray for them.”

Perhaps if Dolan had a read of comments by sex abuse survivors during Australia's royal commission into institutional responses to child sex abuse, he'd actually see a bunch of survivors saying how cathartic the experience of giving their testimony, and the commission playing out, actually was

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.]

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