The Diocese of Albany announced Friday that retired Bishop Howard Hubbard has suffered a major stroke and is in need of prayer.
Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger said in a statement that Hubbard had received the anointing of the sick, despite Hubbard’s announcement this month that he had contracted a civil marriage despite his clerical obligation of celibacy.
“Please pray for Bishop Howard Hubbard. I received news that he is currently hospitalized at Albany Medical Center. Our chaplains have visited him and anointed him. We do not have further detail at this time but will update you as information comes in,” Scharfenberger wrote in a statement released Friday.
Albany’s diocesan newspaper reported subsequently that Hubbard had suffered a “major stroke” this week; the bishop also suffered a stroke last year after a car accident.
Hubbard, 84, announced Aug. 1 that he had undergone a civil marriage ceremony with a woman, despite his clerical obligation of celibacy. The bishop said he made the decision to undergo the ceremony after the Holy See rejected his 2022 request to be laicized.
In November 2022, Hubbard announced he had petitioned Pope Francis to be dispensed from the rights and obligations of the clerical state, claiming that his former diocese had placed restrictions on his ministry as a priest – a claim the Albany diocese rejected as untrue.
Citing sources in the Albany diocese, The Pillar reported last November that the bishop had expressed plans to marry, if the pope approved his petition for laicization.
But in an Aug. 1 letter in the Albany Times Union, Hubbard explained that he had “fallen in love with a wonderful woman who has helped and cared for me and who believes in me.”
While the wedding is presumably civilly recognized, the Church holds that it does not validly establish marriage, because the bishop is bound by the clerical obligation of celibacy, and because Catholics who wish to marry are obliged to exchange matrimonial consent according to specific norms, called canonical form.
When Hubbard announced his marriage ceremony, Albany’s current bishop said he was surprised, and only “beginning to process it.”
But Scharfenberger also affirmed that the marriage was invalid.
“Bishop Hubbard remains a retired bishop of the Roman Catholic Church and therefore cannot enter into marriage,” Scharfenberger said.
Given Scharfenberger’s affirmation that Hubbard’s civil marriage ceremony did not validly establish marriage, the Albany diocese could face questions about its announcement that Hubbard received the anointing of the sick — and about whether Hubbard’s publicly declared marital situation has changed.
Canon 1007 of the Code of Canon Law establishes that: “The anointing of the sick is not to be conferred upon those who persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin” — a term generally understood by canonical scholars to include Catholics who have publicly repudiated Catholic doctrine concerning marriage, and who do not intend to reform their lives.
The announcement of the anointing could suggest that Hubbard has disavowed his invalidly contracted — and publicly announced — civil marriage.
In response to questions, the Albany diocese told The Pillar that: “In someone’s personal or spiritual situation, there is not a public exposition of the nuances that may or may not affect the delivery of pastoral care. It is important to keep in mind the supreme law of the Catholic Church: the salvation of souls in Jesus Christ.”
The Albany diocese will likely face questions again about Hubbard’s civil marriage, Scharfenberger’s affirmation of its invalidity, and Hubbard’s disposition at the time of his eventual death — whenever that might be. At issue will be whether Hubbard will be honored with the funeral rites typically extended to a retired diocesan bishop.
Canon law prohibits ecclesiastical funerals for “manifest sinners” whose funeral might cause “public scandal to the faithful.”
In addition to issues connected to marriage, questions about Hubbard’s eventual funeral will likely involve his record as a bishop. Since Hubbard’s 2014 retirement, he has faced allegations of sexually abusing minors, and has admitted to knowingly reassigning abuser priests and failing to report instances of abuse to law enforcement.
In August 2022, some victims’ advocates expressed misgivings about the ecclesiastical funeral of former Milwaukee archbishop Rembert Weakland.
As Archbishop of Milwaukee, Weakland frequently oversaw the transfer of sexually abusive priests between parishes, was accused of castigating victims, and coercing them into signing settlement agreements which prevented abusers from seeing justice, and is known for suing abuse victims to recover archdiocesan court costs.
The archbishop was also accused of sexually assaulting a younger man in the 1980s, and of later paying him off with money taken from the coffers of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Weakland eventually repaid those funds, and apologized for the scandal of his conduct.