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Instead of calling police, Albany diocese sent priests to private treatment, former bishop says

Sexual abuse by priests was covered up for decades, the longtime former head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany said in a statement.
Image: Bishop Howard Hubbard
Bishop Howard Hubbard swings incense over the Communion Table in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, N.Y., on Feb. 25, 2004.Jim McKnight / AP file
/ Source: Associated Press

The longtime former head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany says the diocese covered up sexual abuse by priests for decades and protected clergy by sending them to private treatment instead of calling police.

Bishop Howard Hubbard, who ran the diocese in New York’s Capital District from 1977 to 2014 and has himself been accused of sexual abuse, made the admission in a statement issued through his lawyer to the Albany Times Union in response to questions from the newspaper.

The Times Union reported Hubbard’s statement on Saturday.

“When an allegation of sexual misconduct against a priest was received in the 1970s and 1980s, the common practice in the Albany diocese and elsewhere was to remove the priest from ministry temporarily and send him for counseling and treatment,” Hubbard said.

“Only when a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist determined the priest was capable of returning to ministry without reoffending did we consider placing the priest back in ministry,” he added. “The professional advice we received was well-intended but flawed, and I deeply regret that we followed it.”

About 300 lawsuits have been filed against the Albany diocese under a state law that allows people until Aug. 14 to sue over sexual abuse they say they endured as children, sometimes decades ago.

In the past, the 82-year-old Hubbard has denied allegations that he sexually abused minors. In an August 2019 statement, he said: “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.”

Responding to allegations in lawsuits that he ignored, disregarded or covered up abuse by others, Hubbard told the Times Union in his statement that he was a leader in the church’s efforts to fight abuse, including support for background checks and compensation for victims.

Hubbard’s statement was not sanctioned by the diocese, the newspaper reported.

“While we cannot offer detailed information on historic events that occurred long before Bishop (Edward) Scharfenberger arrived in the diocese, we can with absolute conviction say that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany takes all allegations of abuse seriously and remains committed to uncovering the truth without fear or favor,” the diocese’s spokeswoman, Mary DeTurris Poust, said in a statement to the Times Union. “Our first concern is for survivors. We stand ready to accompany them, support them, and assist them, and we commend them for their bravery in coming forward.”

She added that the diocese has since 2002 conducted 38,381 background checks on staff and volunteers and required 37,900 safety trainings.