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Kevin ClarkeApril 04, 2022
Retired Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., is seen in this 2013 file photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Nate Whitchurch via Diocese of Albany)

In testimony conducted over four days in April 2021, Bishop Howard Hubbard, the former leader of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., described in unusually frank terms how he moved diocesan priests who had been accused of molesting children in and out of treatment centers and back into ministry. He admitted that the transfers were consistently made without informing local police, families of abuse victims or Catholics in Albany’s parishes, where the men were reassigned.

Bishop Hubbard testified that parishioners were told that their pastors had been removed for “treatment” with no further explanation.

“My perspective is we did not reveal the reason for his treatment,” Bishop Hubbard told Jeff Anderson, the lead attorney for one of the survivors suing the diocese, in reference to one priest.

Bishop Howard Hubbard described in unusually frank terms how he moved diocesan priests who had been accused of molesting children in and out of treatment centers and back into ministry.

“And the reason for his treatment was he had been accused of sexually abusing a minor, correct?” Mr. Anderson asked.

“That is correct,” answered the bishop, who led the diocese from 1977 until 2014, answered.

Mr. Anderson pressed further. “As a matter of practice and protocol, you as the bishop were required to keep that secret to avoid scandal and protect the reputation of the church, of the diocese, correct?” he asked.

“I think both were reasons for not disclosing fully the reason for his treatment,” Bishop Hubbard responded, after clarifying objections from his attorney.

In similarly straightforward testimony, Bishop Hubbard said that in instances when priests admitted to him that they had committed abuse, he did not report this to Albany police. In his testimony, he explained that he was not a mandated reporter and believed that transferring priest abusers into treatment was a sufficient response.

Bishop Hubbard testified that parishioners were told that their pastors had been removed for “treatment” with no further explanation.

“I don’t think the law then or even now requires me to [report admissions of abuse],” said Bishop Hubbard. “Would I do it now, yes. But did I do it then, no.” (New York law still does not include clergy as mandated reporters though a bill has been brought before the state legislature to expand the list to add clergy members.)

Mr. Anderson suggested that canon law required him to keep such allegations secret from the public.

“No. I don’t think that is correct,” Bishop Hubbard responded. “I don’t think there is anything in Canon Law that would prohibit me from doing that.”

Asked why he still refrained from reporting potential criminal acts even if it were not mandated by canon law, Bishop Hubbard said, “Because of the reasons you cited before, the reason of scandal and respect for the priesthood.”

Gerard McGlone, S.J., was struck by the frankness of Bishop Hubbard’s description of his personnel decisions during this period, which occurred decades before U.S. bishops met in Dallas to approve the Charter for Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. That document has governed the institutional response to abuse allegations in most dioceses since.

“I don’t think the law then or even now requires me to [report admissions of abuse],” said Bishop Hubbard. “Would I do it now, yes. But did I do it then, no.”

A survivor of abuse himself, Father McGlone is a senior research fellow at the Berkley Center at Georgetown University and previously served as the associate director for protection of minors for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. He said that the deposition makes it clear that preventing scandal was Bishop Hubbard’s primary concern. The transcript, he said, portrayed “an utter disregard for the welfare of survivors and their families.”

“And that has been, in my opinion, the main failure [of U.S. bishops] of the past 20 years and the main failure prior to that,” he added.

Father McGlone noted a persistent focus “on policies and procedures and not on accompaniment, as Pope Francis has done.”

“It has shed, again, a light on the fact that the church does not accompany survivors from the beginning and has abandoned them.”

“It has shed, again, a light on the fact that the church does not accompany survivors from the beginning and has abandoned them.”

Depositions from lawsuits related to the abuse crisis have been released before—Cardinal Bernard Law’s 2002 testimony comes to mind, Father McGlone said. But he said that “Law was not frank at all, so this is a major change, and I think it is an important window into at least one person’s response.”

“The deposition really does reveal to us how survivors have always been secondary to the response of the church and continue to be so,” Father McGlone said. “And unless we put survivors at the center of the focus of our response, we will continue to repeat this horrendous criminal activity.”

A statement released by Mr. Anderson’s office on March 25 charged that Bishop Hubbard “used the same playbook that countless other Bishops have employed to evade accountability and protect perpetrators at the expense of children.”

“Hearing those motives [for] albeit historical decisions stated so boldly in this day and age is really still a shock,” said Patricia Gomez, a trustee for Voice of the Faithful, a lay-directed church reform movement founded in the aftermath of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team’s exposé on the abuse of children. Ms. Gomez serves on the organization’s Protection of Children Working Group.

“Hearing those motives [for] albeit historical decisions stated so boldly in this day and age is really still a shock,” said Patricia Gomez.

She called the response of Bishop Hubbard and other church leaders of the era “really inadequate.”

“The hierarchy just didn’t address the real issue,” Ms. Gomez said. “They protected the reputation of the institution over supporting victims and...preventing further child abuse within the church.”

That outcome was hastened, she said, by a church “dependent upon [a] hierarchical construct of a privileged, secretive, unaccountable, male-only institution...that foments this culture, so that leaders felt fine that they enabled the protection of the abusers and church leaders above the victim’s best interest and suffering of children.”

“The difference of stating those motives in a deposition now is that they ring so hollow and sad,” she said. “It’s absurd in today’s world and ill advised not to inform law enforcement of these crimes. Did they know it was a crime? Did they know how harmful it was?

“Well, how can you not know that it harmed?” she asked.

Albany’s current bishop, Edward B. Scharfenberger, commented on the deposition in a statement posted on the website of the diocesan newspaper, The Evangelist. “While the truth is often hard to bear, it might help us to remember that families where there has been abuse and betrayal cannot heal if the truth remains hidden,” he wrote. “Families, like individuals, are ‘as sick as their secrets.’

“It’s absurd in today’s world and ill advised not to inform law enforcement of these crimes. Did they know it was a crime? Did they know how harmful it was?”

“All of us have been praying fervently for the family of our Church and our parishes to heal, and this is a crucial step,” the statement continued. “We have a profound responsibility to survivors of abuse in the Church—and to their families and friends who suffer with them. We must not hesitate to recognize that their pain is multiplied by this news, even as we acknowledge the real and historical failures coming to light.”

Bishop Hubbard made the admissions about diocesan policies during a deposition taken last year as part of a response to dozens of claims filed under New York’s Child Victims Act, the “look back” law that allowed lawsuits to proceed after the lifting of the statute of limitations on abuse allegations for one year. Hundreds of people have sued the Albany diocese over sexual abuse they say they endured as children, sometimes decades ago.

A judge ordered the deposition to be released on March 25, overruling the objections of the bishop’s attorneys.

In his testimony, Bishop Hubbard told Mr. Anderson, the attorney representing abuse victims, that he could not recall reports about abusive priests during his years as a “street priest” in Albany. Bishop Hubbard also said that he knew little about the subject of pedophilia. That changed in 1977 when he was installed as bishop and the first allegations of child assaults were brought to his office.

Mr. Anderson pressed Bishop Hubbard on his failure to report potential criminal acts to police. Bishop Hubbard recalled several instances where allegations of child molestation against priests were brought to him by Albany police, who asked him to “do something about” the offending priests—the way many such cases were handled in the era before the U.S. bishops’ charter.

Reviewing Bishop Hubbard’s testimony, Father McGlone found himself wondering: “How is it that his response mirrors and mimics all the other bishops’ responses at that point in time?”

Reviewing Bishop Hubbard’s testimony, Father McGlone found himself wondering: “How is it that his response mirrors and mimics all the other bishops’ responses at that point in time?”

“It reeks of a common response, and I think that raises other...issues in regard to who knew what, when and the extent and level of the knowledge” about the problem of clerical abuse of children, he said.

Bishop Hubbard, through his attorney, declined to discuss the deposition. Bishop Hubbard himself faces lawsuits filed by a number of adult men who allege that he abused them as teens, but he has denied all such claims.

Responding to Mr. Anderson’s questioning, Bishop Hubbard testified that the diocese kept records documenting sexual abuse and other misconduct seperate from the normal personnel files maintained for any diocesan priest.

In the testimony, Mr. Anderson repeatedly calls them “secret files.” Bishop Hubbard described them as “sealed files” that were kept in a locked room that only he and other top church officials could access. The bishop said he rarely had occasion to view these records and only did so to investigate allegations of misconduct or abuse as they arrived.

“We can judge—I can judge—how I acted historically and how I would act today based upon the knowledge that I have today,” Bishop Hubbard said.

Bishop Hubbard’s testimony did not include any strong attempt to defend his past decisions, but he did argue that he was following the guidance of psychologists when reinstating offending priests to ministry.

“We can judge—I can judge—how I acted historically and how I would act today based upon the knowledge that I have today,” he said.

“Things change,” Bishop Hubbard said, “as information and awareness and experience enable us to make different decisions in different points of time, given our understanding and knowledge. And I certainly cannot say that what I did was the best practice, but it was the best practice that I had in my own mind at the time, trying to use the standards that were available at the time.”

He added that after he attempted twice to reach out to other victims of abuse, it seemed to merely traumatize the adult men he managed to reach, so he made no further effort as bishop to seek out other survivors. Most of the policies and practices he described began to change in 1993, Bishop Hubbard said, and then they were abandoned completely under new standards established by the charter in 2002.

“It is a major failure of the Catholic press...that survivors’ stories are not preeminent, regular and consistently told,” Father McGlone said.

Father McGlone said that reading the “horror of that transcript” did not necessarily open old wounds since “the wounds aren’t old for a survivor.”

“It never goes away,” he said. “My wounds are my wounds. They’re not old. They’re simply omnipresent. They sometimes become less raw, but they’re always there.”

Father McGlone added that as a survivor who is looking for progress on the problem of past abuse and preventing it in the future, “one of the key issues for me” is the role of the Catholic press and its failure to “really put survivor stories first.”

“It is a major failure of the Catholic press...that survivors’ stories are not preeminent, regular and consistently told,” he said. “There is a group of us that keep working hard on this, but we're tired; we're really tired. And we need you all [in Catholic media] to get it and to get it more consistently and to put it on the table, so that there is cultural transformation.”

Ms. Gomez found herself “incensed” as she struggled through Bishop Hubbard’s 600 pages of testimony, but she argues this latest evidence of the bishops’ attitude during the crisis as it happened remains worth attending to.

“As starkly brutal as the bishops’ positions [were] years ago, it serves as a reminder,” she said. “Let's not let this happen again. Let's maintain vigilance and safe environments in our parishes and make sure that our diocesan policies for safe environments are in place.”

With content from The Associated Press

Updated on April 5 with information about mandated reporter standards in New York State.

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