A retired Roman Catholic bishop in upstate New York who is a defendant in several sexual misconduct lawsuits said on Tuesday that he had recently married a woman after the Vatican denied his request to leave the clergy.
The retired bishop, Howard J. Hubbard, led the Albany, N.Y., diocese from 1977 until his retirement in 2014 and holds the title of emeritus bishop. He said in a statement issued by a public relations firm and addressed to his “dear colleagues and friends” that he and the woman had married in a civil ceremony last month.
“I have fallen in love with a wonderful woman who has helped and cared for me and who believes in me,” Bishop Hubbard, 84, said in the statement. “She has been a loving and supportive companion on this journey.” He did not identify his wife.
The Albany diocese, which encompasses about 125 parishes and a Catholic population of more than 300,000 people in 14 counties, filed for bankruptcy protection in March. Like other New York dioceses, it faces a welter of lawsuits made possible by a state law that gave adults who say they were sexually abused as children the ability to pursue decades-old allegations against clergy members and others.
Many of the suits filed against the Albany diocese involve allegations of misconduct during Bishop Hubbard’s tenure, including several accusing him of abuse.
Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who has represented hundreds of people in lawsuits accusing clergy members of abusing them, including many of those now suing the Albany diocese, said Bishop Hubbard’s marriage announcement was “bizarre.”
Mr. Anderson called Bishop Hubbard “a mastermind of deceit, deception and concealment of both his own offenses and those of so many priests for almost four decades.”
“I’m kind of thrilled that anything he does now gets scrutinized,” Mr. Anderson added.
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, the Albany diocese’s current leader, said in a statement that Bishop Hubbard’s announcement “certainly is unexpected news” and that “like many of you, I am just now beginning to process it.” Bishop Scharfenberger said the church did not recognize Bishop Hubbard’s marriage.
“Bishop Hubbard remains a retired bishop of the Roman Catholic Church and therefore cannot enter into marriage,” Bishop Scharfenberger said.
As the leader of a diocese with its headquarters in New York’s capital, Bishop Hubbard was a political as well as a religious figure. He had a reputation as a liberal on social justice issues, supporting, for instance, a program to provide intravenous drug users with clean syringes.
Still, he has acknowledged covering up allegations of abuse by priests when he led the diocese and has said he followed the church’s typical practice of the time by sending those accused of misconduct to treatment rather than contacting the police.
He has denied abusing anyone himself. In 2004, he was accused of having sexual relationships with several men and a street hustler decades earlier. An outside investigation he requested subsequently cleared him of sexual misconduct.
Bishop Hubbard said in a statement last fall that he had hoped to continue his ministry in retirement but was unable to because of a church policy that prohibits clergy members accused of sexual misconduct from publicly functioning as priests “even if the allegations are false, as they are in my case.”
“Despite the impact on me," he wrote, “I believe this is a sound policy.”
The prohibition, he wrote, had prompted him to take the unusual step of asking the Vatican “for relief from my obligations as a priest and permission to return to the lay state” so that he could continue to minister to people without violating church rules.
He was informed in March that the Vatican had denied his request, he wrote on Tuesday.
“I was encouraged to wait patiently and prayerfully and to continue to abstain from public ministry until seven civil lawsuits against me alleging sexual misconduct had been adjudicated,” he said.
Ed Shanahan is a rewrite reporter and editor covering breaking news and general assignments on the Metro desk. More about Ed Shanahan
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