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Bishop Howard Hubbard, the controversial retired bishop of Albany, died Saturday after suffering this week from a stroke. Hubbard was 84.

The bishop was hospitalized after suffering a stroke on Thursday, with Albany’s Bishop Edward Scharfenberget asking for prayers in a statement Friday.

Bishop Howard Hubbard. Credit: Diocese of Albany.

In a statement Saturday, Scharfenberger urged prayers, and focused on Hubbard’s identity as a priest, with little remark about the man himself.

“The life of a priest is never about himself but for those whom he serves, to whom he is sent. As we commend our brother, Howard Hubbard, to the God of all mercy, we pray also for all those who, throughout the course of his life, as priest, bishop, and friend, were inspired and encouraged along their own journey, especially those who received the sacraments through his ministry,” Scharfenberger wrote.

“Priests are called to sanctify, to ‘make holy,’ to lift others up to God. As all priests are human, broken men, in need of redemption themselves from their own sins, we also pray for those who were in any way hurt or wounded by any priest they may have encountered,” the bishop added.

“We join with everyone who can see this moment as an occasion to pray for all priests, living and deceased, and those they serve, to lift up our minds and hearts to the one God who alone knows our hearts and seeks the salvation of us all.”

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Hubbard was ordained a priest of Albany in December 1963, and was appointed Albany’s diocesan bishop in 1977, at 38 years old. 

He served as diocesan bishop over five papacies, and during a period of extraordinary change in the Church — Hubbard was appointed a bishop by Pope St. Paul VI, and retired during the pontificate of Pope Francis. 

In 2004, Hubbard was accused of having had sexual affairs with two different men, though a report commissioned by the diocese — and undertaken by a former U.S. attorney — did not substantiate allegations

But after Howard’s retirement, Howard was sued by three different people — two men and one woman — who accused him of sexually abusing them when they were teenagers. The bishop denied those charges, but, according to the Times Union, was accused of molesting at least 10 children in total. 

Hubbard did admit in a 2021 deposition that during his tenure as diocesan bishop, he had knowingly reassigned abuser priests, and failed to report instances or allegations of abuse to law enforcement. The bishop said he made those decisions to avoid “scandal” and out of “respect for the priesthood.”

In early 2021, Cardinal Timothy Dolan was directed by the Vatican to investigate the allegations and record of Hubbard’s personal and administrative misconduct, under the aegis of the Vatican’s Vos estis lux mundi protocols. 

The cardinal paused the investigation soon after it began — while Hubbard faced abuse litigation — but Dolan had by then received some 1,400 pages of documentation concerning the allegations against Hubbard

Hubbard’s tenure as diocesan bishop was also marked by theological controversy, with the bishop — who identified himself as “street priest” and a “radical” — advocated for the ordination of women to the priesthood, and criticized Catholic teaching on sexuality.


In November 2022, Hubbard announced that 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.

The Vatican did not approve his petition. But Hubbard announced earlier this month that despite the Vatican’s decision, he had undergone a civil marriage ceremony with a woman, despite his clerical obligation of celibacy.

Scharfenberger affirmed soon after that the marriage was invalid.

“Bishop Hubbard remains a retired bishop of the Roman Catholic Church and therefore cannot enter into marriage,” Scharfenberger said.

Despite that controversy, Scharfenberger announced Friday that Hubbard was in need of prayers, and that he had been anointed in his hospital room.

The Albany diocese has not yet announced funeral plans for Hubbard. But the prospect of an ecclesiastical funeral for the late bishop could be controversial. 

Canon law prohibits ecclesiastical funerals for “manifest sinners” whose funeral might cause “public scandal to the faithful.”

In addition to issues connected to his invalid marriage, questions about Hubbard’s funeral will likely involve his record as a bishop, the allegations of sexual abuse against him, and his admission of reassigning abusive priests. 

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.

After Hubbard’s death Saturday, a statement was published by some media outlets which identified it as a statement from the Albany diocese.

The statement praised Hubbard as “humble and witty but fearless in the face of controversy and, while deeply respectful of church teaching and tradition, profoundly independent in his thinking.”

A spokesperson for the Albany diocese told The Pillar Saturday that the statement was not published by the diocese, but had been instead written and distributed by a public relations firm contracted by Hubbard before his death.

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