- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2004

ALBANY, N.Y. — Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard has never shied away from a fight, and now the spiritual leader of 400,000 Roman Catholics in upstate New York is waging an unusually public campaign against sexual misconduct charges to save his career.

The claims: That he was involved in two homosexual relationships, one of which led to a man’s suicide 30 years ago, and that he sheltered homosexual priests from abuse accusations.

Bishop Hubbard vigorously denies the charges and insists he has kept his vow of celibacy. He has even persuaded the diocese council to hire a former federal prosecutor to do an independent investigation.

And he insists the charges aren’t just aimed at him.

“It is not just an attack upon myself. It is an agenda about the direction the church is moving,” Bishop Hubbard said. Some conservatives want to “go back to the church of before the Second Vatican Council,” he said, and see him as a liberal target.

“I’m not going to allow myself to be used that way,” he said. “I’m not going to hide.”

On Feb. 4, Bishop Hubbard was accused of having sexual relations with a man in 1978 who later killed himself. The accusation came from the dead man’s brother, who said he found a note in their parents’ home identifying the bishop.

The next day Bishop Hubbard, 65, denied having sexual relations with anyone, ever. Two days later, a second man said the bishop paid him for sex in the 1970s in an Albany park where the man — then a homeless teenager — lived.

On Feb. 15, the scandal deepened. A priest, the Rev. John Minkler, was found dead in his home in the small city of Watervliet, outside Albany. Two days earlier, he had met with Bishop Hubbard to deny involvement in the writing and sending of a 1996 letter to the New York Archdiocese that charged Bishop Hubbard was part of a “ring of homosexual Albany priests.”

Father Minkler had been linked to the letter in a local TV newscast days earlier. The cause of his death remains unknown and under investigation.

In particular, the conservative Roman Catholic Faithful, a national group, has dogged Bishop Hubbard for years as a liberal vanguard and calls the bishop’s aggressive campaign a sham.

“What’s that saying? ‘Thou doth protest too much’?” said Stephen Brady, leader of the Illinois-based Roman Catholic Faithful. The group, which strongly opposes homosexual clergy and the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, drew more than 100 supporters — and nearly as many opponents — to a raucous rally in February a half-dozen blocks from Albany’s cathedral.

“If somebody falsely accuses you of a heinous act, an immoral act, you deny it and then you let it go,” Mr. Brady said. “If they persist, you threaten legal action.

“I’ve heard a lot of [bishops] say they encourage an investigation, but never, that I know of, has a bishop hired … his own lawyer to investigate himself.”

Bishop Hubbard’s handling of the charges contrasts to the way most bishops who have been personally entangled in the abuse crisis have reacted, including in neighboring Springfield, Mass. There, Bishop Thomas Dupre’s resignation — citing health reasons — was approved by the Vatican last month, a day after the Republican newspaper of Springfield confronted the bishop with abuse charges.

Bishop Hubbard insists he doesn’t want to simply silence critics, but to refute their accusations for the sake of his reputation, the priesthood, and the church.

But he knows for some the scandal will never end.

“There will always be a taint,” he said. “I will always be associated with this.”

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