The retired bishop of Albany, New York, who has admitted to covering up for predator priests and has himself been accused of sexual abuse, has asked Pope Francis to remove him from the priesthood.
Emeritus Bishop Howard Hubbard, 84, announced the decision in a statement Friday, the day the United Nations designated as the World Day for the Prevention of and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Violence.
Hubbard said he wanted to be laicized, or returned to the lay state, because he could no longer function as a priest, given U.S. church policy that bars accused priests from ministry. If accepted, laicization would relieve Hubbard of his celibacy obligations.
Asking the pope for voluntary laicization is unusual, especially for a bishop and particularly for a cleric who denies abuse allegations against him. Usually, priests ask to be laicized if evidence of abuse against them is overwhelming or if they want to leave the priesthood to get married. The Vatican can forcibly laicize priests, or defrock them, as a punishment for such crimes as clergy sexual abuse.
Hubbard has acknowledged covering up allegations of sexual abuse against children by priests in part to avoid scandal and protect the reputation of the diocese. He did so in a deposition for one of the dozens of claims by hundreds of people who have sued the Albany diocese over sexual abuse they say they endured as children, sometimes decades ago.
But he has strongly denied accusations that he himself abused minors. In his statement Friday, Hubbard repeated that claim of innocence.
“I hope and pray I will live long enough to see my name cleared once and for all,” he said.
Hubbard ran the diocese in New York’s Capital District from 1977 to 2014.
Other U.S. bishops have asked Francis to resign over their mishandling of predator priests, but not be removed altogether from the priesthood. Francis in 2019 forcibly defrocked ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after a church investigation determined he sexually abused adults and children.
Attorneys for abuse survivors hailed Hubbard’s request to leave the priesthood entirely as the culmination of efforts by victims to hold the Catholic hierarchy accountable for abuse and cover-up. While the U.S. church has had a “one strike and you’re out” policy in effect for two decades, it spared bishops from sanction.
Only in 2019 did the Vatican pass in-house norms to investigate accused bishops, but those cases have been shielded in secrecy with no full public accounting of who has been investigated or sanctioned and leaving it to individual dioceses or bishops’ conferences to release information.
“We feel Hubbard’s removal is not only justified but necessary. This signals to survivors that their voices are being heard,” said attorney Cynthia LaFave in a statement issued by the law offices of Jeffrey Anderson, who has represented hundreds of abuse survivors in the U.S.
A leading German Catholic bishop on Saturday contested the Vatican’s view that debates about women priests and homosexuality were closed, saying they will have to be confronted in the future.
Bishop Georg Bätzing spoke at a news conference at the end of a week of talks between Pope Francis and Vatican officials on one side, and all of Germany’s bishops on the other.
They centred on a controversial German progressive movement, known as the “Synodal Path”, that aims to give lay Catholics a say on some doctrinal matters as well as the appointment of bishops.
The movement has alarmed Catholic conservatives and moderates around the world, who fear that it could lead to massive splintering similar to what happened in Anglican and Protestant Churches after they introduced similar changes in recent decades.
“As far as the ordination of women is concerned, for example, (the Vatican’s) view is very clear, that the question is closed. But the question exists and it has to elaborated and discussed,” said Bätzing, who is bishop of Limburg and head of the German Bishops Conference.
The Catholic Church teaches that women cannot be priests because Jesus chose only men as his apostles and that while same-sex attraction is not sinful, homosexual acts are.
Some Church progressives want the Catholic catechism to be changed so that it does not condemn homosexual acts in a committed relationship and to open a process leading to women’s ordination.
“All these questions are on the table (of the German Synodal Path) and all attempts of cancel them will not have success,” Bätzing said.
“Popes have tried to say the question (of women priests) is closed but the fact is that the question exists. Many young women say ‘a church that refuses all of this cannot be my church in the long run,'” he said.
In 2021 the Vatican’s doctrinal office ruled that priests cannot bless same-sex unions.
In September, Flemish Roman Catholic bishops issued a document allowing the practice.
Asked if he would bar priests in his diocese from blessing same-sex unions Bätzing said: “I will not deny God’s blessing from those in committed relationships who are seeking it”.
In July, the Vatican tried to slam brakes on the German movement, saying it risked causing a schism in the universal Church.
Bätzing said he did not see such a risk.
“It (schism) is not an option for any bishop or lay person in Germany. We are Catholics and we will remain Catholics but we want to be Catholics in a different way,” he said.
Top Vatican cardinals tried to put the brakes on the German Catholic Church’s controversial reform process Friday, fearing proposals concerning gays, women and sexual morals will split the church and insisting they would be better debated later.
The Vatican and the German bishops conference issued a joint statement after a week of meetings that culminated with an unusual summit between the 62 German bishops and top Vatican officials, including the No. 2 secretary of state, the head of the bishops’ office and the head of the doctrine office.
The pope, who met separately with the German bishops on his own on Thursday, was originally supposed to attend Friday’s summit but did not, leaving it to his cardinals to toe the Vatican line.
Germany’s church launched a reform process with the country’s influential lay group to respond to the clergy sexual abuse scandals, after a report in 2018 found at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014. The report found that the crimes were systematically covered up by church leaders and that there were structural problems in the way power was exercised that “favored sexual abuse of minors or made preventing it more difficult.”
Preliminary assemblies have already approved calls to allow blessings for same-sex couples, married priests and the ordination of women as deacons. One has also called for church labor law to be revised so that gay employees don’t face the risk of being fired.
The German “Synodal Path” has sparked fierce resistance inside Germany and beyond, primarily from conservatives opposed to opening any debate on such hot-button issues and warning that the German reforms, if ultimately approved in the final stage, could lead to schism.
Such warnings were echoed by Vatican Cardinals Marc Ouellet, in charge of bishops, and Cardinal Luis Ladaria, in charge of doctrine, in the meeting Friday.
According to the joint statement, they “spoke with frankness and clarity about the concerns and reservations of the methodology, content and proposals of the Synodal Path and proposed, for the sake of unity of the church,” that they be dealt with later, when the global Catholic Church takes up such issues in a universal way next year.
The statement said a “moratorium” was proposed, but was rejected.
Francis has since launched a global “synodal path” which involves soliciting input from lay Catholics around the globe that has echoed many of the same themes as the German process, including the role of women in the church and homosexuality. But there is no indication the global church is prepared to go as far as the German church in pressing for change.
Francis, for his part, has personally intervened on the German process and recently pointed to a 2019 letter he wrote to the German faithful as summarizing all he has to say on the matter. In that letter, Francis offered support for the process but warned church leaders against falling into the temptation of change for the sake of adaptation to particular groups or ideas.
Bishop Georg Baetzing, who heads the German bishops conference, for his part, explained the work undertaken so far, stressing that it was based on listening to the “people of God and the pain over abuses committed by clergy,” the statement said.
Baetzing is scheduled to give a press conference on Saturday.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore signaled Friday that it might object to a still-unreleased report by the Maryland attorney general into clergy sexual abuse of minors.
The report, by the office of outgoing Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, took nearly four years to complete and tallies more than 600 young victims and 158 abusive priests over 80 years, according to a court filing Thursday.
Because the 456-page report includes testimony that resulted from grand jury subpoenas, a judge must approve its release. The filing in Baltimore City Circuit Court requests its release.
Christian Kendzierski, a spokesman for the archdiocese led by Archbishop William E. Lori, wrote back Friday to The Washington Post’s asking if the church would contest the report’s release.
“The Archdiocese does not object to the release of a report which accurately details the heinous crime and sin of child sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the clergy and also fairly and accurately details how the Archdiocese responded to such allegations, even when the response fell far short of how such allegations are handled today,” his statement read. “The motion filed by the Maryland Attorney General does not reflect the Archdiocese’s current and decades-long strong pastoral response and handling of allegations of child sexual abuse.”
The report is the second of its kind, following an explosive one from a Pennsylvania grand jury in 2018 that led to the arrest of priests, early retirement for an archbishop and new policies. It also included many decades-old cases, something victims and their advocates said was essential since in most cases higher-ups were never held responsible and often priests retired and were still paid and remained clergy. Even if statutes of limitation made civil, canonical or criminal cases unfeasible, advocates said, the detailed compiling of how the cases happened and were handled, and the cost to the abused, was a kind of justice.
The archdiocese since January 2019 has cooperated with Frosh’s office, turning over more than 100,000 pages, the statement from the archdiocese’s spokesman said.
On Friday Kendzierski’s statement said the archdiocese would “continue to cooperate with any legal processes relating to the Attorney General’s investigation. The Archdiocese is participating in the court process and understands that the courts rightly expect the law on grand jury materials to be followed and due process to be respected.”
Requests to the archdiocese for greater clarity weren’t answered late Friday.
It wasn’t clear what legal argument the archdiocese might be planning to make. In Pennsylvania, church officials fought the attorney general over the inclusion of specific names of accused clergy who had not been charged, saying that to name them violates their constitutional rights. For weeks, court and state lawyers were in court arguing about the redacting of names and entire sections and what could be released.
Frosh spokeswoman Raquel Coombs said, “It is our hope that the Archdiocese will not oppose release of the report to provide victims long awaited relief and healing.”
A nearly four-year investigation of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore tallied more than 600 young victims of clergy sexual abuse over 80 years, a court filing by the Maryland attorney general said Thursday. The probe, the second in the country by a state prosecutor, after Pennsylvania’s, seeks to bring accountability and detail to cases long covered up or shrouded by statutes of limitation.
The filing by Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) comes in the 20th anniversary year of an investigative series by the Boston Globe that dug into the Catholic sexual abuse scandal in the United States. Major reforms and multibillion-dollar legal settlements have reduced the number of accusations over the decades, but advocates in and out of the church say that full restitution has never come and such chronicles are important.
“Now is the time for reckoning,” said the 35-page filing in Baltimore City Circuit Court that asks a judge to approve the release of the full 456-page report. Because the report includes information from grand jury testimony, a judge’s approval is required. “Publicly airing the transgressions of the Church is critical to holding people and institutions accountable and improving the way sexual abuse allegations are handled going forward,” the attorney general argued in the filing.
The filing says the report identifies victims from preschool to young adulthood. A spokesperson for Frosh said they reached to age 18.
It was not immediately clear Thursday how many of the priests and victims, if any, may have been newly uncovered by the report.
The filing says the report identifies 115 priests who have already been prosecuted or identified by the church as “credibly accused,” and that it includes an additional 43 priests “accused of sexual abuse but not identified publicly by the Archdiocese.” That is 158 priests.
The archdiocese lists 152 priests on its website as credibly accused.
Many dioceses have lists of credibly accused priests, and their systems for organizing the lists are different. They can include priests ordained in a diocese, or priests serving in a diocese when alleged abuses took place, or priests who happened to be in that diocese when abuse took place.
Christian Kendzierski, a spokesman for the archdiocese, wrote to The Washington Post that he has “no clarification” of what the filing meant by 43 new names. Raquel Coombs, Frosh’s spokeswoman, said she couldn’t comment beyond what was in the filing. The filing says that of the 43 priests that have not been publicly identified or prosecuted, 30 have died.
“The investigation also revealed that the Archdiocese failed to report many allegations of sexual abuse, conduct adequate investigations of alleged abuse, remove the abusers from the ministry or restrict their access to children. Instead, it went to great lengths to keep the abuse secret,” the filing says.One parish had 11 abusers over 40 years.
Earlier Thursday, a spokesman for the archdiocese said it has “fully cooperated” since Frosh began the investigation in January 2019, including providing more than 100,000 papers.
“The Archdiocese recognizes that the release of a report on child sexual abuse over many decades would undoubtedly be a source of renewed pain for survivors of abuse and their loved ones, as well as for faithful of the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese continues to offer its profound apologies to all who were harmed by a minister of the Church and assure them of our heartfelt prayers for their continued healing. The Archdiocese remains committed to pastoral outreach to those who have been harmed as well as to protect children in the future,” wrote Kendzierski in an email.“Any request the AG made of the Archdiocese, the Archdiocese has cooperated with and will continue to cooperate.”
David Lorenz, Maryland leader of SNAP, an organization that advocates for church abuse victims, said he was struggling to digest the scope of abuse and called the report “disturbing.”
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said, “and I just wish I could reach out to each of [the victims] and say: ‘It’s okay, it’s not your fault. Please seek help. There are people out there helping, who want to help, who will believe you, who won’t ridicule you, who won’t deny what happened to you. No matter how bad you think it is, it was never your fault.’ ”
Lorenz added that, despite his outrage, he doesn’t expect this report to land with the same effect that previous disclosures did, partly because people have been desensitized. “Nobody wants to look at this, it’s a horrible thing to look at,” he said. “I get that, but you’re not going to solve the problem until you look at it.”
Terry McKiernan, president of the watchdog and research group BishopAccountability.org, said that because the investigation is based on hundreds of thousands of pages of subpoenaed documents, the attorney general’s report has the potential to reopen a nationwide push for new laws and public accountability on how the church handled problem priests.
“It becomes a lot harder to ignore these issues when you have a 500-page report on how bad things are on your desk,” McKiernan said. “They’re going to have knowledge about failures in the archdiocese and management that we don’t know anything about yet,” he said of investigators. “The fact that they have uncovered … 11 accused priests over the years that worked in a single parish, that is shocking, and it’s the sort of thing we see when we approach full accountability at an archdiocese.”
A Pennsylvania grand jury made worldwide news in 2018 when it issued an 800-page report — a first of its kind — that led to arrests of priests in Michigan, protests in Maryland, an early retirement for a Washington archbishop and new policies from New York to the Vatican.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia passed laws extending or eliminating their statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse or allowing previous victims to sue, Marci Hamilton, who tracks legislation at the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Child USA, told The Post in 2019.<
Even before its release, the report spurred one Maryland lawmaker, Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles County), to draft legislation to help victims. Wilson had tried and failed for years to abolish the statute of limitations for abuse victims to file civil lawsuits against institutions that harbored their abusers. (There is no statute of limitations on criminal prosecutions, but Maryland limits how long victims abused as children have to file civil lawsuits.) In doing so, he and other victims of child sex abuse recounted their stories in testimony, only to see the legislation fail in the Maryland Senate after passing the House of Delegates.
He took a break from advocating for the bill last year. Then on Tuesday, he pre-filed legislation that would abolish time limits on civil suits as well as create a two-year window for victims previously barred from bringing such suits to take legal action.
“I didn’t plan on doing it again anytime soon,” Wilson said. “I knew the report was coming. The advocates thought it would be damning.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the Maryland attorney general identified 157 priests who allegedly committed sexual abuse. The number is 158. The article has been updated.