Boston, Mass., Aug 1, 2023 / 15:25 pm
The retired bishop of Albany, who is facing allegations that he both covered up and personally committed sexual abuse, announced Tuesday that he married a woman in a civil ceremony. Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard, 84, made headlines last year after he announced that he asked the Vatican if he could return to the lay state, claiming he is not able to function publicly as a priest because of sexual abuse allegations. The Vatican denied his request to return to the lay state in March, he said. In a statement on Monday, Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger said that Hubbard remains a bishop and that his “marriage” is invalid. He added that he is “not permitted to represent himself as a priest or perform the sacraments in public.” Hubbard said in a statement dated Aug. 1, titled “A Letter to my Dear Colleagues and Friends,” that after his request for laicization was denied, he could no longer wait for the lawsuits filed against him to be resolved. “I was encouraged to wait patiently and prayerfully and to continue to abstain from public ministry until seven civil lawsuits against me alleging sexual misconduct had been adjudicated,” he said. He said in his announcement that the Albany Diocese could take several years for the sexual abuse lawsuits it is facing to be adjudicated, which could stretch the process into his 90s. “In the meantime, I have fallen in love with a wonderful woman who has helped and cared for me and who believes in me. She has been a loving and supportive companion on this journey,” he said. “After much prayerful reflection, we decided to marry and did so in July in a civil ceremony,” he added. Hubbard led the Diocese of Albany from 1977 to 2014. In a 2021 article for the Times Union, Hubbard admitted to mishandling sexual abuse allegations against priests while he was bishop, saying that the diocese did not notify law enforcement when certain allegations were made. In addition, Hubbard currently faces a Vatican-ordered investigation into allegations that he committed sexual abuse in 1977, soon after his installation as bishop. The former bishop said he hopes and prays for four things, namely, for survivors of clergy sexual abuse; that he will be able to “prove my innocence” in the cases against him; that “our marriage will be one of fidelity, love, and service”; and that “the Vatican will eventually grant me laicization and recognize our marriage.” “I want to express my profound gratitude to my friends and colleagues and the people of our diocese for the love, care, and concern you have shown me in my nearly 60 years of priestly service, 46 as a bishop, and for the wonderful fraternal bond I have enjoyed with my brother bishops and priests, deacons, and the religious women and men who have served in our diocese, the laity and the interfaith and civic leaders with whom I was privileged to serve,” he said. “As I enter this new phase of my life as a retired private person, I humbly ask that the news media and others respect our privacy as a couple. My life on the public stage has come to an end. To all of you, I thank you with the words of my episcopal motto, ‘Rejoice, we are God’s people,’” he said. He signed the letter “Howard J. Hubbard.” Last November, the Albany Diocese clarified that Hubbard voluntarily removed himself from publicly celebrating the sacraments, countering Hubbard’s claims 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.” In Scharfenberger’s statement Monday, he called Hubbard’s announcement “unexpected,” adding that “like many of you, I am just now beginning to process it.” “While he is not permitted to represent himself as a priest or perform the sacraments in public, Bishop Hubbard remains a retired bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church does not acknowledge his marriage as valid. He remains a retired bishop of the Roman Catholic Church and therefore cannot enter into marriage,” he said. Scharfenberger called for prayer for sexual abuse survivors and their families, including for all the faithful in the diocese. He also asked for prayer for the diocese’s priests, deacons, and men and women religious, “many of whom depended on Bishop Hubbard for their vocations.” “Also pray for Bishop Hubbard and all in his close circle, that they can help to guide him to act in accordance with God’s will,” he said. “This is a challenging time for many, but we are not alone. Let us remember that through the turmoil, the one constant for all of us is the comforting presence of Jesus, who shepherds us with the promise of everlasting life,” Scharfenberger said. “Let us journey together, as a people of faith, believing that with God, in God, and through God, healing is possible,” he added. Hubbard has defended his record on dealing with abuse by writing that “in the 1970s and 1980s, when an allegation of sexual misconduct against a priest was received, the common practice in the Albany Diocese and elsewhere was to remove the priest from ministry and send him for counseling and treatment.” “Only when a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist determined the priest was capable of returning to ministry without reoffending did we consider placing him back in ministry. While most priests who were so treated did not reoffend, it did not always work,” he said. Hubbard wrote that it was a “mistake” to not notify the public or the parish when a priest was removed. In that same article, he touted many improvements the diocese made in protecting children against sexual abuse such as instituting a diocesan review board, hiring a victims’ assistance coordinator, creating a more rigorous application process for the seminary, and conducting background checks on diocesan staff and volunteers. At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news. As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time. “While we never condoned, ignored, or took lightly sexual abuse of minors, we did not respond as quickly, as knowledgeably, and as compassionately as we should have, and for that I am sincerely sorry,” he wrote. Joseph Bukuras is a journalist at the Catholic News Agency.