ALBANY – In an open letter on Tuesday, Aug 1 the retired Bishop of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Albany announced his request to be laicized, or relieved of his obligations as priest and bishop, was denied by the Vatican in March,and he married a woman in July despite still being a Bishop.
As Spotlight News reported in November, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard requested to return to the “lay state,” in a letter to Rome so he could marry, but the answer was unknown until his release.
“In March, I received notice from the Vatican that my request had been denied. 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,” Hubbard wrote.
Spotlight News reviewed 374 of the over 400 Child Victims Act (CVA) lawsuits filed against the Dioceses of Albany and we found 10 suits that named Hubbard as a defendant or listed him as an abuser. Last week, the Albany Diocese confirmed that of the lawsuits we reviewed, one was dismissed and two others named him, but did not accuse him of direct abuse.
The remaining 7 suits are by accusers that were between the ages of 10 and 16. Four are boys and two are girls. In one case the victim is only identified as a child. The alleged abuse listed in the suits range from 1971 to 2012.
The news of Hubbard’s marriage took many people by surprise, including the current Bishop of the Albany Diocese, Edward Scharfenberger, who wrote a letter to members of the clergy, religious and diocese staff.
“You may or may not have yet heard that Bishop Howard Hubbard has confirmed he was recently married in a civil ceremony,” Scharfenberger wrote. “This certainly is unexpected news and like many of you, I am just now beginning to process it.”
Because the Vatican did not grant relief from his obligations as a Bishop and his vows as a priest, the marriage is not recognized by the church and he remains bound by those vows.
“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,” Scharfenberger said. “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.”
Hubbard, 84, said in his statement that due to the Albany Diocese filing bankruptcy in March, he may be 91 or 92 before the CVA cases are fully adjudicated.
“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.
He did not identify his wife or her age when the relationship began and asked the media and members of the public for privacy.
Hubbard also said that he prays and hopes “that survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their families will find the peace, healing and reconciliation to which they are entitled; that I will have the opportunity to prove my innocence to the allegations against me before a court of law,that with whatever time God continues to grant me on this Earth, our marriage will be one of fidelity, love and service, and that the Vatican will eventually grant me laicization and recognize our marriage.”
The marriage may also provide Hubbard with the return to the “lay state” he requested and was denied, but in another way.
According to Cannon Law, the law that governs the Catholic Church, a civil marriage automatically suspends a cleric who enters into a civil marriage and can lead to removal.
“A cleric who attempts marriage, even if only civilly, incurs a latae sententiae (automatic) suspension… If, after warning, he has not reformed or continues to give scandal, he must be progressively punished by deprivations, or even by dismissal from the clerical state.”
A timeline for the process is not laid out in the law, however, and it is not a public process.
The current bishop, in his letter, gave this direction.
“I urge you to pray for all survivors of sexual abuse and their families. Pray for all of the faithful in the diocese. Pray for our priests, deacons, the men, and women religious, many of whom depended on Bishop Hubbard for their vocations,” Scharfenberger said. “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.”