ALBANY, N.Y. (OSV News) — After the Vatican turned down his laicization request earlier this year, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, retired bishop of Albany, announced in an Aug. 1 statement that he had married in a civil ceremony.
“Last fall, after prayerful consideration and consultation, I applied to the Vatican to be returned to the lay state and to be relieved of my clerical obligations. In March, I received notice from the Vatican that my request had been denied,” Bishop Hubbard said in the statement, titled “A Letter to My Dear Colleagues and Friends.”
“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. “Shortly thereafter, the Diocese of Albany declared bankruptcy, as have six of the eight other Dioceses in New York State. I have been advised that it may be several years before the Albany bankruptcy case is settled and all of the Child Victims Act civil lawsuits adjudicated.”
He said that he will turn 85 years old in October and “could be 91 or 92 before these legal matters are concluded.”
“In the meantime, I have fallen in love with a wonderful woman who has helped and cared for me and who believes in me,” he said. “She has been a loving and supportive companion on this journey. After much prayerful reflection, we decided to marry and did so in July in a civil ceremony.”
Bishop Hubbard, who led the Diocese of Albany for 37 years before his 2014 retirement, has been accused of child sexual abuse, which he denies. He is also the subject of a Vatican investigation under a process for bishops accused of abuse or of mishandling sexual abuse allegations. He voluntarily stepped back from public ministry in 2019.
Shortly after Bishop Hubbard released his statement, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany responded with his own statement to the faithful on the marriage, reported The Evangelist, newspaper for the Diocese of Albany.
“This certainly is unexpected news and like many of you, I am just now beginning to process it,” he said. “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 acknowledged that “this is a challenging time for many,” but “the one constant for all of us is the comforting presence of Jesus, who shepherds us with the promise of everlasting life.”
“It is an extremely rare move for a bishop to ask the Vatican to be laicized, be turned down, and then get married in a civil ceremony,” Bishop Scharfenberger wrote. “If a bishop or priest is laicized, it is usually for their mishandling or complicity in the clergy abuse crisis, most notably former Cardinal and Bishop Theodore McCarrick, who was laicized in 2019. Bishop Janusz Wieslaw Kaleta, of Poland, was laicized by the Vatican in 2016 after it was discovered he had a relationship with a woman and had frozen several embryos. All of the sacraments that Bishop Hubbard had previously celebrated over the decades are valid prior to his marriage.”
Bishop Hubbard, who was bishop of Albany from 1977-2014, has been accused of alleged sexual abuse and has been named in seven civil lawsuits under the Child Victims Act. He has vehemently denied he abused anyone, saying in 2019 after he was named in a second lawsuit that “I have never sexually abused anyone of any age at any time.”
In March 2022, as first reported in the Albany Times Union in deposition testimony that was made public that month, Bishop Hubbard was questioned by an attorney representing people who had filed claims of abuse against the Diocese of Albany under the Child Victims Act. Asked why he did not report a suspected case of child sexual abuse to law enforcement when he was bishop, after a priest allegedly admitted to him that he had abused a child, Hubbard replied, “Because I was not a mandated reporter. I don’t think the law then or even now requires me to do it. Would I do it now? Yes. But did I do it then? No.”
The Evangelist reported Nov. 18, 2022, that Bishop Hubbard had asked the Vatican to be returned “to the lay state.” According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, laicization is “the process by which a priest is returned to the lay state. It is sometimes used as a penalty for a serious crime or scandal, but more often it comes at the request of the priest. A laicized priest is barred from all priestly ministry with one exception: He may give absolution to someone in immediate danger of death.”
In 2018, Pope Francis issued the motu proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi (“You Are the Light of the World”), which was a mechanism for how the Church should deal with the abuse crisis, which included the investigations of bishops.
The Diocese of Albany confirmed in 2021 that Bishop Hubbard would be investigated under “Vos Estis” by the Archdiocese of New York and Cardinal Timothy Dolan. In 2022, several news outlets reported that attorneys representing a plaintiff who filed a civil suit against Bishop Hubbard wanted access to the more than 1,400-page report, but the Archdiocese of New York claimed in court that the records of the investigation are protected by the First Amendment.
Bishop Hubbard’s statement
In the close of his Aug. 1 statement, Bishop Hubbard said he hoped and prayed for four things: “(1) That survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their families will find the peace, healing and reconciliation to which they are entitled; (2) That I will have the opportunity to prove my innocence to the allegations against me before a court of law, (3) That with whatever time God continues to grant me on this Earth, our marriage will be one of fidelity, love and service, and (4) 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 continued. “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.’ God bless you all.”
Mike Matvey is editor of The Evangelist, the newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, New York.