Retired Bishop Goes on Leave Two Days After Sex-Abuse Lawsuit Filed

A retired bishop in New York State announced he was taking a leave of absence two days after a lawsuit was filed alleging he molested an teenage boy.

On August 16, Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard of the Diocese of Albany took an absence from the Diocese of Albany. In a suit filed August 14, a plaintiff identified only as P.R alleged Hubbard sexually abused him repeatedly in the mid-1990s, when P.R. was 16.

Hubbard "used his position as a priest to groom and to sexually abuse" the then-teen between 1994 and 1998, according to WNYT.

Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard
Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard (c) is accused of sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy in the 1990s. Roman Catholic Diocese of New York

The lawsuit was filed the first day New York's Child Victims Act (CVA) went into effect. The statute, which will remain in effect for one year, removes the statute of limitations on filing a lawsuit alleging child sex-abuse. It's already been used to sue the Governing Body of the Jehovah's Witnesses for covering up abuse, and legal experts expect more religious institutions and community organizations to face similar suits.

Hubbard, who notified current bishop Edward Scharfenberger of his decision to take a leave of absence, maintains his innocence.

"With full and complete confidence, I can say this allegation is false. retired in my life," he said in a statement. "I have been a priest for 55 years. My ministry is my life. But stepping aside temporarily now is the right thing to do."

He added that Catholics—and the larger 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."

It's not the first time Hubbard has been accused of sexual misconduct: In the early 2000s, a California man alleged his brother had a sexual relationship with Hubbard before his brother's death by suicide in 1978, at age 25. Another man claimed Hubbard had solicited sex from him when he was a teenage sex worker in Albany in the 1970s.

Hubbard denied all the accusations, claiming he had never engaged in a sexual relationship. At the time, Albany's Roman Catholic community rallied around him, with parish members wearing purple ribbons to show their support.

"He's the saintliest man I've ever met in the way he's lived his life," one person told the Boston Globe.

At that time, the Albany Diocese had already paid out more than $2.3 million in settlements stemming from abuse allegations and removed several accused priests from their sacramental duties. According to the Globe, the diocese reported that 19 priests had committed sexual abuse over a 53-year period.

At a 2002 diocese gathering where a zero-tolerance approach to abuse was adopted, Hubard proposed an amendment that would allow for some discretion in dealing with abusive priests. (In the end, he voted for the zero-tolerance policy.)

When he retired as bishop in 2014, Hubbard continued to help out the diocese by celebrating Mass and presiding at weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies.

The Diocese has asked people not to rush to judgment regarding the current allegations.

"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 statement read. "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."

Church leaders noted that Scharfernberger, acting according to Pope Francis' guidelines for combating sex abuse, informed New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal ambassador to the U.S., about the charges.

Hubbard, 80, served as the Bishop of Albany from 1977 until 2014. When he was first appointed In 1977, at age 38, he was the youngest bishop in the United States.

At the time, he was known for his progressive social stances and for working in underprivileged neighborhoods.

Retired Bishop Goes on Leave Two Days After Sex-Abuse Lawsuit Filed | U.S.