Duane: Catholic Clergy Should Not Sit in Chamber during Session

January 9, 2003

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ Calling Roman Catholic clergy lobbyists, state Sen. Thomas Duane said the Senate should not have allowed Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard to stay in the chamber after giving the opening prayer at Wednesday's session.

Hubbard, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, should have left the Senate floor immediately following the invocation, said Duane, a Manhattan Democrat who is Catholic.

Hubbard instead sat at the podium for the remainder of the 20-minute session, the official start of the 2003 term before senators walked down the hall to the Assembly chamber to hear Gov. George Pataki's 2003 State of the State address.

It has been a tradition for more than a decade for Hubbard to offer a prayer at the opening day of the Senate, diocese officials said. The bishop was also an invited guest at the State of the State speech.

Though Wednesday's Senate session was largely ceremonial, Duane said Thursday, "lobbyists should not be on the floor of the Senate."

"This may give the impression of exerting undue influence on Senate members," he wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. "I cannot in good conscience watch Catholic church leaders use the perks of their position in the halls of government while victims of (clergy sexual) abuse are forced to struggle to get their stories told."

Bruno responded, "He's welcome to his opinion. He's an elected official. I don't agree with him."

Catholic Conference Executive Director Richard Barnes called Duane's complaints "an expression of anti-Catholic intolerance."

"His prayer called for a nonpartisan and unified purpose among our leaders and people in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable," Barnes said. "It is sad that Senator Duane then chose to betray the spirit of that prayer with his irrational letter."

While Hubbard has not been implicated personally in the church sex scandal, he has been criticized for publicly opposing the "zero-tolerance" policy imposed against clergy accused of sexual misconduct.

After bishops adopted the policy, Hubbard formally removed six priests, including three in active ministries, who admitted sexually abusing children. The Albany diocese also acknowledged paying some victims of sexual abuse by Albany-area priests a total of $2.3 million in secret agreements over the past 25 years.

Democratic Assemblyman John McEneny of Albany called Duane's complaint an "unfair slap at a distinguished member of the clergy."

A rabbi who gave the Assembly's opening prayer Wednesday also stayed for that chamber's short session.

"Catholics have a more powerful lobby force than any of the other denominations," Duane said. "This particular issue (of sexual abuse) is very pointedly related to Catholics."

Duane, the only openly gay member of the Senate, said he had no problem with Hubbard specifically, and agrees with most of the bishop's stances on the treatment of the poor and disadvantaged.

"This is the height of hypocrisy," said Republican Sen. Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie. "It's an expression of intolerance I think Sen. Duane, of all people, would not want to engage in."

Duane blamed the Catholic Conference for preventing passage of a bill last year that would have required religious leaders to report any sex abuse accusations against priests and other clergy dating back 20 years.

But Saland, the bill's Senate sponsor, said the Catholic Conference did not contribute to the measure's failure.

"He's playing to some fans back home, but it's not remotely true," Saland said. "Neither Bishop Hubbard nor the Catholic conference has lobbied me either informally or formally in opposition to the bill."

McEneny, the bill's Assembly sponsor, concurred.

They said a tentative agreement on the clergy reporting bill died at the close of session last summer because social workers feared it would also mandate school guidance counselors and women's health clinic workers to report sexual relationships between teens.

Both Saland and McEneny said the Legislature will pass a newly crafted bill this year.

Duane "specifically gears everything here to Catholics. We don't have a Catholic bill. We have a clergy bill," McEneny said. "It shows bigotry toward one faith that's uncalled for."


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