The retired bishop of Albany, New York, who has admitted covering up for predatory 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 the World Day for the Prevention and Healing of 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 American church policy that prohibits accused priests from ministry. If accepted, secularization would release Hubbard from his celibacy obligations.
Asking the Pope for voluntary laicization is unusual, especially for a bishop and particularly for a cleric who denies the abuse allegations against him. Priests typically ask to be laicized if the evidence of abuse against them is overwhelming or if they want to leave the priesthood to get married. The Vatican can force priests to laicize, or expel them, as punishment for crimes such as clergy sexual abuse.
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Hubbard has acknowledged that he covered up allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests in part to avoid scandal and protect the reputation of the diocese. He did so in a statement for one of dozens of claims from hundreds of people who have sued the Albany diocese for sexual abuse they say they suffered as children, sometimes decades ago.
But he has strenuously denied accusations that he himself molested minors. In his deposition Friday, Hubbard repeated that claim of innocence.
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“I hope and pray that I live long enough to see my name cleared once and for all,” he said.
Hubbard led the diocese in the Capital District of New York from 1977 to 2014.
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Other US bishops have called on Francis to resign over his mishandling of predatory priests, but not to remove him from the priesthood entirely. In 2019, Francis forcibly removed former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after a church investigation determined that he sexually abused adults and children.
Lawyers for abuse survivors hailed Hubbard’s request to leave the priesthood altogether as the culmination of efforts by victims to hold the Catholic hierarchy accountable for the abuse and cover-up. While the US church has had a “one hit and you’re out” policy in place for two decades, it prevented bishops from being sanctioned.
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Only in 2019 did the Vatican pass internal rules to investigate accused bishops, but those cases have been shrouded in secrecy without a full public account of who has been investigated or sanctioned and leaving the information to individual dioceses or bishops’ conferences to release.
“We believe that the removal of Hubbard is not only justified but necessary. This signals to survivors that their voices are being heard,” attorney Cynthia LaFave said in a statement issued by the Law Offices of Jeffrey Anderson, who has represented hundreds of survivors of abuse in the US