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Bishop Scharfenberger of Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany discusses unsealed testimony of his predecessor

Bishops Howard Hubbard & Ed Scharfenberger
Dave Lucas
/
WAMC
Bishop Howard Hubbard submitted his mandatory resignation letter on October 31st, 2013, his 75th birthday, after spending more than half his life as the Albany diocese spiritual leader. The following February, Reverend Monsignor Edward Scharfenberger was announced as the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Albany.

The head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and the attorneys representing victims who filed child sex claims against the clergy are reacting to the release of a 2021 deposition by former longtime Bishop Howard Hubbard.

A 680-page deposition of testimony delivered under oath last year by Bishop Hubbard, who led the Albany Diocese until 2014, was publicly released for the first time March 25th. Hubbard acknowledged the diocese covered up at least 11 sexual abuse claims against clergy during his 37-year tenure.

With the diocese facing hundreds of Child Victims Act lawsuits, including accusations against Hubbard himself – which he denies — Hubbard had said protocol in the 1970s and 80s was to remove accused priests from ministry temporarily and send them for counseling. He said he deeply regretted the policy.

Jeff Anderson and Associates represents over 190 survivors. Attorney Taylor Stippel says Hubbard made a series of bad choices.

"He had the power to prevent these horrors from being inflicted on kids," Stippel said. " He had a duty to protect, he chose not to, he had the power to make sure that offending priests under his control as bishop were criminally prosecuted. He chose not to. He had the power to remove offending priests from ministry and tell the public why the real reason why he chose not to. He had the power to petition to have offending priests removed from the priesthood entirely to fire them. He chose not to."

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, who took over for Hubbard, spoke with WAMC News after the deposition was released. He says he first learned about Hubbard’s comments when a judge denied Hubbard’s motion to keep the deposition sealed: "Some of the news that came out last week was not new, in that Bishop Hubbard had made certain admissions that had been put out, that the decisions that were made as you know, as we look back now realize that, you know, things that we certainly don't do, you know," said Scharfenberger. "Certainly we believe that our responsibility you know, towards survivors of abuse, requires full disclosure."

In his testimony, Hubbard stated he shielded alleged abusers within the clergy to protect the reputation of the priesthood. He said he never reported the allegations to law enforcement or warned parishioners.

Victims attorney Cynthia LaFave of LaFave, Wein and Frament: "It's not a valid legal argument. It's not a valid ethical argument. There's nothing about that argument that makes any sense," said LaFave. "Because a rapist is a rapist is a rapist. None of that should have been shielded, they should have always been criminally prosecuted like any other member of society would have."

Scharfenberger says he himself has never hid an abuse claim. He adds if a victim comes forward, he follows protocol, which includes passing the claim through a review board made up of lay people. "I always take cautionary measures of placing any living person who has been accused, removing them from active ministry, you know, not that we have enough proof yet to say that this removal would be permanent, but just as a precautionary measure, anyone against whom a claim is advanced, and that comes forward, it in an abundance of caution, we will remove that person from active ministry, I will use the term 'assign them to administrative leave,' which means they will not be ministering as a priest or deacon publicly," said Scharfenberger.

Asked if he would release the church’s trove of files Hubbard testified about, Scharfenberger says state Attorney General Tish James has all of the files and documents related to abuse claims.

In a separate statement, the diocese said it takes all allegations of abuse seriously and remains committed to uncovering the truth without fear or favor.

Stippel says the files should be publicly released.

"Bishop Scharfenberger issued a statement in which he said that betrayal cannot heal if the truth remains hidden," said Stippel. "We completely agree. And the diocese today has the power to have that transparency to put that information out there to release the files of every accused offender in the Diocese of Albany. And we're hopeful that they'll do that."

The deadline for the Child Victims Act lookback window in New York was August 14, 2021. LaFave praised the bravery of the survivors who came forward... "...finally being released from this horrible guilt that they have felt for so many years," LaFave said. "And they are feeling that this is a movement forward because all of this was happening to them in secrecy. And the secrecy started and ended with the Catholic Church, and with the priests and end the bishop and the Holy See. And now it's coming out and it's public. And finally, this is going to make it certain that public understand how horrible this was. And then understanding hopefully, we will move forward so that this will never happen again."

Scharfenberger is optimistic about moving forward. "I'm very hopeful that we're in a better position now than we may have been years ago but we continue to the process of accompaniment and, and giving our survivors all the support that they're entitled to."

Scharfenberger says priests are expected to tell the truth.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.