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Scharfenberger: Hubbard 'not uncontroversial' bishop 'at times'

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany praised his late predecessor, Bishop Howard Hubbard, in a funeral homily Friday. 

Scharfenberger focused his homily on Christian hope and the blessing of priests, though he also  acknowledged that controversy surrounded the retired bishop, who announced a few weeks ago that he had civilly married a woman, prompting a correction from Scharfenberger.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger offered a funeral Mass for Bishop Howard Hubbard Aug. 25. Credit: Diocese of Albany/YouTube.

“God wants all of us to be saved, without exception,” he said.

Scharfenberger delivered the homily Friday at a funeral Mass for Albany’s retired Bishop Hubbard, who died Aug. 19, a few days after suffering a stroke. 

“The theme of our reflection today is not so much the past but the present and the future,” Scharfenberger said in his homily for Hubbard, whose tenure was marred by numerous allegations of sexual abuse and an acknowledgement that he knowingly reassigned abusive priests.

Hubbard’s life “is much to be celebrated,” Scharfenberger said, while acknowledging that the late bishop “was not an uncontroversial figure at times.”

“But then again, I know no priest that has not at times been a source of great hope and blessing,” he continued.

“I’m sure we’ve all had experiences — maybe a confession went wrong, maybe the priest was having a bad day… Make no mistake about it, priests are human beings. They are broken, they are sinful, just like you and me. Sometimes, unfortunately, sometimes their own brokenness and sinfulness can get in the way of what they really want to do, which is to lead souls to the Lord.”

Scharfenberger stressed that the vocation of a priest is centered on service to others.

“The whole call of the priesthood is to reach out to…particularly those who are most broken and most alienated and most in need of knowing the loving mercy of God,” he said.

“Those priests in our lives that may not have measured up to that – that was their goal and desire. But we still pray for them, and we still ask God’s blessing on all of them.”

We are all sinners, Scharfenberger emphasized, while rejecting the notion that we are merely “a collection of the vices and virtues that over the years we may have been privileged to live.”

Rather, he said, we are children of God.

“We are not just what we do. We are who we are.”

God is the one who lifts us up, he said, pointing to the crucifix as a reminder of “the extent to which God will go, the Good Shepherd if you will….[who] doesn’t want anyone to be lost from his fold.”

People are made for love and hope, despite the imperfections in the world, the bishop said.

“I invite you to join me in my belief that hope is what is worth living for, and for those of us who believe in Jesus, to hang on to the cross,” he concluded.

In addition to Scharfenberger, Hubbard’s funeral was concelebrated about two dozen priests and at least two bishops. 

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger offered a funeral Mass for Bishop Howard Hubbard Aug. 25. Credit: Diocese of Albany/YouTube.

The diocese’s decision to hold an ecclesiastical funeral for the late bishop was controversial.

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

Controversies surrounding Hubbard included his theological stances in opposition to Church teaching, a recent invalid marriage, numerous allegations of sexual abuse, and an admission of reassigning abusive priests. 

Hubbard was appointed Albany’s diocesan bishop in 1977, and served as a diocesan bishop over five papacies, until his retirement in 2014.

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 retiring, Hubbard 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.

After Hubbard’s death, a statement released on social media praised the late bishop 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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