ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard has never shied away from a fight, and now the spiritual leader of 400,000 Roman Catholics in upstate New York is waging an unusually public campaign against sexual misconduct allegations to save his career.
The claims: That he was involved in two gay relationships, one of which led to a man's suicide 30 years ago, and that he sheltered gay priests from abuse accusations.
Hubbard vigorously denies the charges and insists he has kept his vow of celibacy. He has even persuaded the diocese council to hire a former federal prosecutor to do an independent investigation.
And he insists the charges aren't just aimed at him.
''It is not just an attack upon myself. It is an agenda about the direction the church is moving,'' Hubbard said. Some conservative want to ''go back to the church of before the second Vatican Council'' and see him as a liberal target.
''I'm not going to allow myself to be used that way,'' he said. ''I'm not going to hide.''
On Feb. 4, Hubbard was accused of having sexual relations with a man in 1978 who later killed himself. The claim came from the dead man's brother, who said he found a note in their parents' home identifying Hubbard.
The next day Hubbard, 65, denied having sexual relations with anyone, ever. Two days later, a second man claimed Hubbard paid him for sex in the 1970s in an Albany park where the man then a homeless teenager lived.
On Feb. 15, the scandal deepened. A priest, the Rev. John Minkler, was found dead in his home in the small city of Watervliet, outside Albany. Two days earlier, he had met with Hubbard to deny involvement in the writing and sending of a 1996 letter to the New York Archdiocese that claimed Hubbard was part of a ''ring of homosexual Albany priests.''
Minkler had been linked to the letter in a local TV newscast days before. The cause of his death remains unknown and remains under investigation.
In particular, the conservative Roman Catholic Faithful, a national group, has dogged Hubbard for years as a liberal vanguard and calls the bishop's aggressive campaign a sham.
''What's that saying? 'Thou doth protest too much'?'' said Stephen Brady, leader of the Illinois-based Roman Catholic Faithful. The group, which strongly opposes gay clergy and the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, drew more than 100 supporters and nearly as many opponents to a raucous rally in February a half-dozen blocks from Albany's cathedral.
''If somebody falsely accuses you of a heinous act, an immoral act, you deny it and then you let it go,'' Brady said. ''If they persist, you threaten legal action.''
''I've heard a lot of them (bishops) say they encourage an investigation, but never, that I know of, has a bishop hired ... his own lawyer to investigate himself.''
Hubbard's handling of the charges contrasts to the way most bishops who have been personally entangled in the abuse crisis have reacted, including in neighboring Springfield, Mass. There, Bishop Thomas Dupre's resignation citing health reasons was approved by the Vatican last month, a day after The Republican newspaper of Springfield confronted the bishop with abuse allegations.
But Hubbard has long been a fighter.
In 1967, when Hubbard worked with street people, he fought to create northeastern New York's first heroin rehab clinic. Again and again, he clashed with one of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller's top drug policy advisers, outraged at the claim there was a heroin problem in Rocky's capital.
Hubbard won, and Hope House was founded.
Today, Hubbard is battling to save his reputation and protect his church in news conferences, prayer meetings and in no-holds-barred radio and television interviews.
The Albany County district attorney refused Hubbard's request to investigate the claims of the two gay relationships, saying they weren't crimes. So Hubbard urged the diocese to find someone beyond reproach who would. Former federal prosecutor Mary Jo White has begun that investigation, which is expected take several more weeks.
''He was a tough guy,'' said Jerry Connelly, 64, of Albany, a longtime friend of the bishop's and former street basketball foe. ''You can't just be a little lamb ... I think you fight for what you believe.''
At 65, Hubbard is trim and fit, due in part to a full schedule seven days a week and evening jogs on his treadmill. He usually avoids his office's trappings, wearing the black of a parish priest and driving his midsize sedan alone as he rushes to events and Masses throughout his 14-county diocese.
His speaks softly, but directly, training placid blue eyes on the questioner to make sure his answers satisfy.
Hubbard insists he doesn't want to simply silence critics, but to refute their accusations for the sake of his reputation, the priesthood, and the church.
But he knows for some the scandal will never end.
''There will always be a taint. I will always be associated with this.''
On the Net:
Albany Diocese: http://www.rcda.org/
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