Howard J. Hubbard, a once lionized “street priest” who became the nation’s youngest bishop at 38 and presided over the Albany, N.Y., diocese longer than any of his predecessors, then acknowledged covering up sex abuse scandals and was himself sued for sexually abusing children, died on Saturday in Albany. He was 84.
His death, in a hospital, was caused by a stroke, his spokesman, Mark Behan, said.
Bishop Hubbard, whose upstate New York diocese encompassed more than 300,000 Roman Catholics in 125 parishes in 14 counties, was widely regarded as a progressive voice in the church on social issues like the death penalty and the ordination of women, though he unsuccessfully sued the state in 1984 to block the approval of two abortion clinics in the diocese.
But when he resigned in 2014 after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75, becoming bishop emeritus, he acknowledged in a legal deposition and in an interview with The Albany Times Union that the diocese had covered up allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests to avoid a public scandal.
The police were not notified when priests accused of the abuse were sent away for treatment, he said, and their return to the ministry after medical professionals approved it was kept quiet. He expressed regret at the time over the lack of transparency.
A statement issued by a spokesman for the bishop after his death said: “He had long believed in the promise of rehabilitation and redemption but publicly acknowledged in retrospect that the policy was a mistake. He repeatedly apologized to anyone who suffered as a result of his actions.”
Bishop Hubbard was himself accused of sexual abuse but denied the allegations.
In one instance, a man filed a civil lawsuit in August 2019 accusing the bishop of sexually abusing him when he was a teenager in the 1990s. A month later, a woman said that he and two other priests sexually abused her in the rectory of a Schenectady church in the late 1970s, when she was a teenager. He denied both accusations, although he voluntarily stepped down from his pastoral duties.
After the bishop’s deposition was released, Jeff Anderson, a lawyer for one of the people accusing the diocese, said: “Bishop Hubbard’s testimony reveals decades of decadence, denial and deception at the peril of so many innocent, trusting children, in his own words.”
The Albany diocese, like other dioceses in the state, has filed for bankruptcy protection after being inundated with lawsuits under a recent state law enabling adults to pursue legal remedies for decades-old allegations of sexual abuse of children.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs have accused the diocese, as well as the Archdiocese of New York, which has jurisdiction over the state, of using delay tactics in hopes that aging victims and witnesses will die before the cases are resolved.
Last year, Bishop Hubbard requested laicization, or official removal from the clergy. The Vatican denied the request this year, pending resolution of the allegations against him in seven cases.
This month, he announced his marriage to Jennifer Barrie in a civil ceremony. “I could be 91 or 92 before these legal matters are concluded,” he wrote in a statement. “In the meantime, I have fallen in love with a wonderful woman who has helped and cared for me and who believes in me.”
In a letter to the diocese, his successor, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, said that while Bishop Hubbard was not permitted to present himself as a priest because of the pending allegations against him, he was still bound by his vow of celibacy and could not wed. The church does not recognize his marriage to Ms. Barrie, Bishop Scharfenberger said.
After Bishop Hubbard’s death, Bishop Scharfenberger said in a statement: “Priests are called to sanctify, to ‘make holy,’ to lift others up to God. As all priests are human, broken men, in need of redemption themselves from their own sins, we also pray for those who were in any way hurt or wounded by any priest they may have encountered.”
When he announced his retirement in 2013, responding to the sexual abuse allegations, Bishop Hubbard said: “I tried to be a disciple of Jesus and a compassionate shepherd. I didn’t always succeed, but I tried my best.”
In a statement issued on his behalf after his death, he said: “While the pain that I have felt as an individual falsely accused is great, it can never approach the devastation experienced by victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy or others in a position of authority in our society.”
Howard James Hubbard Jr. was born on Oct., 31, 1938, in Troy, N.Y., northeast of Albany. His father was an accountant for the state. His mother, Elizabeth (Burke) Hubbard, was a secretary for a shirt manufacturing firm.
Raised in nearby Lansingburgh, he completed his bachelor’s degree in philosophy at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. He earned a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and was ordained a priest in Rome in 1963. He later studied at the Catholic University of America in Washington.
In 1966, at the request of the auxiliary bishop in Albany, he established Providence House to serve the poor and later founded Hope House, a center to treat drug abuse. He was the founding president of LIVCORP, which provided group homes for people with developmental disabilities, and president of the Urban League in the Albany area.
When he was appointed bishop in 1977 by Pope Paul VI, he had been the diocesan vicar general, the bishop’s highest ranking deputy, for a year. He was the first bishop of the Albany diocese to have been born in the Capital Region.
As bishop, he supported a program to provide intravenous drug users with clean syringes; urged white Catholics in the mid-1960s to acknowledge and apologize for anti-Black racism; and led a Palm Sunday reconciliation service for Christians and Jews in 1986.
In 2004, Bishop Hubbard was accused of having had a relationship with a man who died by suicide in 1978. He denied the relationship, and a former federal prosecutor, hired by the diocese, said she found no credible evidence that he had had inappropriate sexual relations, had led a homosexual lifestyle or had broken his vow of celibacy.
Bishop Hubbard said after his marriage that the policy that barred a priest from functioning while sexual abuse allegations were pending, even false allegations, had deprived him of “the single greatest joy of my life — serving our community as a Catholic priest in my retirement years.”
“I hope and pray I will live long enough to see my name cleared once and for all,” he added.
On the eve of his retirement, he said he expected to be interred in the last remaining alcove in the crypt of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, where other bishops are entombed. But a diocesan spokeswoman said this week that Bishop Hubbard had decided instead to be buried alongside his parents at a cemetery in Troy.
Sam Roberts, an obituaries reporter, was previously The Times’s urban affairs correspondent and is the host of “The New York Times Close Up,” a weekly news and interview program on CUNY-TV. More about Sam Roberts
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