Lawsuits Could Put Hubbard on Stand
Albany-- Disputes over Handling of Abuse Claims Appear Headed to Court
By Andrew Tilghman
Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
January 16, 2003
Bishop Howard Hubbard could be forced to testify about his handling of reports of sexual abuse by priests after his attorney and a lawyer for victims squared off in a courtroom for the first time Wednesday.
Hubbard has been named in two lawsuits during the past month, accusing him of improperly handling reports of sexual abuse during the past year.
The initial court appearance between a church attorney and a lawyer for victims signaled that both sides were ready to take these cases and other disputes into the courtroom.
Specifically, Wednesday's argument concerned whether or not church officials should ask people seeking to report sexual abuse to meet with officials at church offices. Alleged victims say seeing priests, crucifixes and church relics can be traumatic and trigger flashbacks to abuse that occurred long ago.
Church attorney Michael Costello indicated the diocese was inflexible about the meeting location, and he said those who did not want to meet with the church's psychiatric social worker at the pastoral center could send a written complaint.
Victims' attorney John Aretakis urged the court to force the diocese to hold meetings elsewhere, but State Supreme Court Justice Bernard Malone declined to intervene, finding no reason for the court to become involved in the matter.
Both attorneys left the court bracing for further legal battles.
"This is the proper forum where these allegations can be tested and subjected to scrutiny," Costello said.
Aretakis, who told the judge he has 22 clients claiming sexual abuse at the hands of Albany diocesan priests, said of the church, "They're signaling to me, 'Just sue us' "
Aretakis' lawsuits could force Hubbard to make sworn statements or even testify in open court, as have some of his counterparts elsewhere in the country where the sexual-abuse scandal has spilled over into the courts.
"He's a witness to a lot of these events," Aretakis said.
"That is the logical progression of lawsuits. If his deposition needs to be taken, that is something I have done in other parts of New York," said Aretakis, who grilled Bishop Matthew Clark of the Rochester Diocese under oath last year.
A spokesman for the diocese, the Rev. Kenneth Doyle, called the prospect of the bishop testifying "totally speculative." If Aretakis attempted to make Hubbard testify, "We'll file our answers in court," he said.
Doyle also said in a written statement that the church would accommodate victims by meeting with them in a setting other than the pastoral center.
A lawsuit filed on Tuesday accused Hubbard and other church officials of deliberately making the reporting process intimidating and unpleasant in an effort to discourage victims from coming forward. That lawsuit led to Wednesday's hearing.
Another lawsuit filed in late December accused Hubbard of working with a church therapist in an effort to discourage her "patient" from hiring a lawyer or going public with his story of sexual abuse.
The Albany diocese has adamantly denied nearly every aspect of both lawsuits.
In Boston, a judge forced Cardinal Bernard Law to testify in May, when he revealed that he left decisions about reassigning known pedophile priests to subordinates. Those revelations contributed to the public outcry leading to his resignation.
In June, Hubbard removed six priests from the Albany Diocese who were known to have abused children during the past 25 years. The church also acknowledged in June that it paid out $2.3 million in secret settlement payments to victims during the last 25 years.
Church officials have repeatedly declined to say precisely how many priests remain under investigation or how many victims have come forward with claims of sexual abuse during the past year. But Costello said in court that Aretakis and his clients were not the only people involved.
"There are many other lawyers involved, and many other victims who have come forward," Costello said.
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