Bishop Hubbard reflects on his years of service

Posted at: 11/11/2013 4:28 PM
Updated at: 11/11/2013 6:47 PM
By: Kumi Tucker

ALBANY -- Bishop Howard Hubbard is the longest-tenured bishop in the country.

"I think after 36 years, it's time for a breath of fresh air in the diocese. I've done the best I can," he said as he sat down for an interview about his years of service.

Hubbard's 50 years in the priesthood was celebrated last month at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany.

When he turned 75 years old last month, he was required to submit his resignation to the Vatican.

The bishop is known for his dedication to working for society's weakest and most vulnerable.

He was ordained as the bishop of Albany in 1977. At the time, he was the youngest Catholic bishop in the country.

Now, looking back, he is proud that lay people have been given a greater voice in church life.

"I'm also proud of the ecumenical and interfaith relationships that have been developed here in our Capital District community," said Hubbard.

As a priest, he worked in Albany's inner city. He drove drug addicts to treatment. Seeing a need, he founded Hope House, a substance abuse treatment center.

He also led the Albany Catholic Diocese during a dark time for the church.

"Well, I certainly regret the terrible scandal of clergy sexual abuse. I mean, this has been the greatest crisis that the church has faced since the Reformation," the bishop said. "I think we were slow to recognize the problem. I don't think we always handled it well and I certainly have seen first-hand from meeting with victims the terrible suffering that they endured, and their families as well."

When asked if he would have handled things differently, Hubbard said, "I always took every complaint that I received seriously. But I would say that in the early stages, I didn't realize the lifelong trauma that a victim experiences if there is not some type of therapeutic intervention, so that was a learning process for me."

The bishop says he thinks the role of women needs to be advanced in the church.

"We have women parish life directors who are running parishes," he pointed out. "The question is, can women be ordained. And I think that the new pope, Francis, is open to at least explore what further possibilities there are for women's leadership roles in the church."

Supporters say he is approachable. He has chosen to live a far more modest life than many other bishops, declining even a driver.

What's something people might know about him? Hubbard said they probably don't know that he tends to have a heavy foot when he drives.

Many people have personal stories of how the bishop quietly helped them.

"I would like my legacy to be that everyone felt welcome in the church and that the hallmark of the church was one of compassion, understanding and mercy. Our Holy Father Pope Francis has said that the church should be a field hospital for the wounded and I think that's a wonderful image," Hubbard said.

It could be months or more before a new bishop is appointed. After that, Hubbard will still be helping where needed, with a special focus on mass in under-served prisons and nursing homes.