Albany Diocese rocked by claims against Hubbard

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Then-Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Albany Diocese celebrates Saint Madeleine Sophie’s 50th anniversary in 2010. He retired as bishop in 2014 and then, this month, stepped away his duties as bishop emeritus — offering masses or performing weddings — when he was charged with sexually assaulting a minor in the 1990s.

Complaints lodged last week against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany have reached the highest level. One complaint alleges then-Bishop Howard Hubbard sexually abused a 16-year-old boy at St. Mary’s Church in Ballston Spa, including in a room off the sacristy.  

Hubbard retired as bishop in 2014 and then, on Aug. 16, “stepped away from public ministry,” according to Mary DeTurris Poust, spokeswoman for the diocese. 

“For the last five years, I have had the privilege of celebrating Mass and presiding at weddings, baptisms, confirmations, graduations and funerals at parishes in every corner of our Diocese … Earlier this week, I was publicly accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing a minor in the 1990s,” Hubbard said in a statement. “With full and complete confidence, I can say this allegation is false. I have never sexually abused anyone in my life. I have trust in the canonical and civil legal processes and believe my name will be cleared in due course.” 

Hubbard continued, “In the meantime, I will temporarily step aside from my public ministry. This is a profoundly painful step: I have been a priest for 55 years. My ministry is my life. But stepping aside temporarily now is the right thing to do. Our people and our broader community must be assured that our church leaders, active or retired, and indeed all clergy are living in accord with the highest standards that our sacred ministry requires.” 

The diocese also responded to Hubbard’s decision, saying of the current bishop, Edward Bernard Scharfenberger, appointed in 2014, "Bishop Scharfenberger supports Bishop Hubbard’s decision to step aside from ministry until this case is resolved, even as the Bishop Emeritus steadfastly maintains his innocence. Bishop Hubbard graciously put others first at this most difficult moment.”

Earlier, on Aug. 14, Scharfenberger issued a statement about the charges against Hubbard, which read in part: “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 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. It is critically important to remember that, like anyone else, Bishop Emeritus Hubbard enjoys the presumption of innocence, and we will withhold any judgment until all the facts are known and this case is resolved. We take all allegations seriously and pray for all who come forward with allegations.” 

Hubbard was also named in a number of suits filed last week for not intervening when priests under his jurisdiction were accused of abuse.

In 2004, the diocese had hired Mary Jo White, a former federal prosecutor, to look into charges against Hubbard; she concluded after hundreds of interviews with witnesses that there was no evidence Hubbard had broken his vow of celibacy.

Scharfenberger’s statement went on to say that he had informed the Papal Nuncio as well as Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop for the New York Province, of the claim against Hubbard, in keeping with recently updated reporting guidelines. 

Aug. 14 marked the beginning of a “look-back year” established by the Child Victims Act. Previously, victims who alleged that they were sexually assaulted as children needed to bring charges by their 22nd birthday. Throughout this one-year period, the statute of limitations is lifted, and victims of any age can bring charges about incidents of sexual assault that occurred when they were underage, regardless of when the abuse occurred. 

Once the year-long period is over, child sex-abuse victims will have until age 55 to file civil suits, and until their 28th birthday to file criminal charges. 

 SInce Aug. 14, about 25 civil claims have been brought in Albany County Supreme Court against the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese. 

The Albany diocese is large, spanning 10,000 square miles and 14 counties. 

The New York State Attorney General has, for the past year, been investigating how the state’s dioceses and other church entities reviewed allegations of extensive sexual abuse of minors and whether they may have covered up allegations. 

Since the start of that investigation, diocesan spokeswoman DeTurris Poust said, the diocese has implemented a new policy, under which no one can access personnel records alone. Only the diocesan chancellor and archivist now have access to those files, and only if they are together. 


“A different church”

The Albany Diocese has done a lot of work since 2002, when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops established a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, DeTurris Poust said, adding that the charter has been revised several times, including last year.  

“All of our programs started to grow out of the charter,” she said, explaining that the charter calls for zero tolerance of abuse. 

Scharfenberger “is very focused on survivors,” she said. He wrote in a letter to priests and deacons a year ago that this is “much more than a crisis of policies and procedures … It is a profoundly spiritual crisis.” 

The bishop has said, according to DeTurris Poust, “‘We’re going to be a different church when this is over.’” 

She elaborated on that idea, saying, “The bishop talks a lot about how the truth is the way through. And so it’s going to be a lot of difficult stories that will be hard — well, aside from the survivors, who have to bear the scars of all of this — it’s also going to be hard for Catholics throughout the diocese.

“As with any kind of crisis that you have in your life, you don’t come out the same on the other side. We see ourselves, hopefully, on the other side of it being a stronger church, a holier church, a more compassionate church, and one that walks with survivors.” 

In April, Scharfenberger established a task force, DeTurris Poust said, composed of a dozen people to assess current protocols and suggest improvements, and also to expand the diocese’s programs of pastoral outreach to survivors and their family members. 

The task force includes several survivors of sexual abuse as well as attorneys, doctors, and college administrators. It meets about every six weeks at Siena College, she said, and will continue to meet for at least a year. 

The members of the task force are people not employed by the diocese, DeTurris Poust said, although she and others from the diocese serve as liaisons to it, and will help implement its recommendations. 

The United States Catholic Church has a rigorous program now of training and performing background checks, DeTurris Poust said. Anyone wanting to teach a class or attend a field trip must first take the training, called VIRTUS, and also undergo a background check.

This training is also repeated at least every five years, although employees and volunteers have been asked recently to retake it every time the curriculum is updated, which has been at least every two years, and probably more frequently than that, DeTurris Poust said. 

Any children who will take a class such as Sunday school or catechism — which might be on Sunday, or after school, or in the evening — must take a “Safe Environment” class, which trains them in “the whole idea of ‘good touch and bad touch,’” DeTurris Poust said, “and what to do if somebody makes you feel uncomfortable.” 

Asked by The Enterprise if, these days, a child would ever be alone in a rectory with a priest for, say, catechism lessons, DeTurris Poust replied, “I would say you would not have a child alone in a rectory with a priest.” 

Some parishes in the diocese have begun to hold “listening sessions,” DeTurris Poust said, “where people can come together and talk about what’s happening and how they feel about it, and get answers to their questions.” 

She expects to see more parishes hold those sessions over the next few months, she said. 

The diocese now follows a list of protocols for the treatment of minors, which came out of the charter but has been revised in recent years. This is one of the items being reviewed by the task force, DeTurris Poust said. In its current form, protocols include: 

— Encouraging parents and guardians to be part of any and all services and programs in which their children are involved; 

— Developing policies for children’s programs regarding use of secluded areas, such as requiring staff to check bathrooms before sending children in alone, prohibiting children from entering staff-only areas, monitoring all youth internet activities, and ensuring the use of appropriate blocking and filtering computer software; 

— Cautioning church personnel to avoid developing exclusive relationships with individuals or a group of individuals; 

— Prohibiting church personnel from buying alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, or inappropriate videos or reading materials for minors; 

— Prohibiting adults from being alone with a young person if they are showering or changing clothes, and requiring changing and showering facilities for adults to be separate from those for minors; 

— Prohibiting church personnel from inviting young people into their personal living space or from being alone with them in their own living space; and 

— Having church personnel avoid driving alone with a minor, except in an emergency when this may be necessary for the health, safety, and well-being of the minor. 

Victims of sexual abuse by clergy, diocesan employees, or volunters are urged to report the abuse to the local police or the office of the appropriate district attorney.  Reports will not be screened for credibility. 

According to DeTurris Poust, the diocese will not conduct any investigation unless and until the appropriate district attorney’s office declines to investigate. 

In that case, she said, an investigator for the diocese —  a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent — investigates the allegation and presents a report to the diocese’s review board, which in turn makes a recommendation to the bishop about whether it believes there are grounds for action.

Asked about the two cases filed last week (see related stories) with Guilderland connections, DeTurris Poust said, “Both Alan Jupin and Francis Melfe have been subject to previous allegations of abuse. However, because of expected litigation involving claims against both men, I cannot comment on any specifics at this time. All allegations of child sexual abuse that are brought to the diocese are reported immediately to the district attorney. Additionally, the diocese is providing all documentation related to all abuse claims to the state attorney general.”

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