Former Bishop Howard Hubbard’s family condemns bishop’s eulogy at funeral

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The family of former Bishop Howard Hubbard is speaking out for the first time since his funeral last week.

As first reported by the Times Union, Hubbard’s nieces and nephews said they were not pleased with the eulogy delivered by Bishop Edward Scharfenberger last Friday.

In the letter, they said Scharfenburger focused too much on sinning and didn’t highlight the former bishop’s positive impact on the community.

You can read the full letter below:

Our Reactions to Our Uncle’s Memorial Service.

Bishop Howard Hubbard, who passed away last week at the age of 84, was to so many of those who knew him a pillar of strength in the faith community and a symbol of extraordinary grace for members of the Albany diocese.

Known to his family as Father Howard, he offered up his entire ecumenical life to those he served and beyond. He was both a “street priest,” ministering to the addicted, the destitute, and the disadvantaged, and a preacher who could impress congregations of any size. He had the unique ability to connect with everyone he met. He knew and loved people, and everybody knew and loved him. He possessed a bottomless reserve of empathy.

Unfortunately, those in attendance at his memorial on Friday didn’t hear anything about his accomplishments and attributes. Rather, we heard how we are “all sinners” and how “all men are broken.” There was a long list of achievements to draw from, achievements that would illustrate what an extraordinary shepherd Father Howard was. But the homily failed to mention his service to God, his spiritual leadership in the Albany diocese, and his care for the less advantaged. The presiding bishop opted to turn a celebration of an incredible life into a condemnation of sin.

The presiding bishop noted, “It’s not about what I say today that matters…” But indeed it was. While he could have said so much, the grieving congregation heard about meaningless things, including the presiding bishop’s miter, the history of the funeral mass, and his own life and Catholic experience. The irony is when Father Howard spoke in front of a congregation, he never made it about himself. He was as selfless a man as any who led a church service. Despite holding an exalted post, his ego never entered the frame.

The murmuring from congregants during the mass belied unrest. Several people avoided the bishop at communion and a handful even left early. As a native son, Father Howard gave six decades of his life to God and the church, and he touched thousands of the local faithful along the way, and there was not a single mention of this unparalleled service.

There was controversy at the end of his ministry, including some unproven allegations. (Recall he was absolved of the 2004 allegations after a lengthy investigation by Mary Jo White.) While mired in a scandal about his handling of sexual abuse allegations against his clergy, Father Howard admitted he was following church protocol and the advice of medical professionals. Still, he took full responsibility for his decisions and apologized profusely for what happened. He exposed the church’s mishandling and apologized. Imagine that: a public official apologizing for his actions.

In light of this, it’s not surprising that the church’s political hierarchy turned its back on Father Howard. In accordance with diocese policy Father Howard stepped down from his pastoral functions. For years he foundered, frustrated that he could no longer perform the sacraments that go to the very heart of what it means to be a priest. From the joy of bringing a newborn into the Catholic faith, through baptism, to providing comfort when anointing the sick, Father Howard was always there for the parishioners. Without that role to fill, he chose a different path for the remainder of his life. (It should be said during that time we were all concerned about his ability to care adequately for his own health.)

But the current bishop’s intentional failure to address Father Howard’s servitude over six decades was detestable. Father Howard did nothing less than reestablish the moral standing of the local church during his leadership, and he deserved so much better.

When confronted and asked for an explanation about his misguided homily, the current bishop replied simply, “I’ll pray for you.” When pushed further, he repeated the same phrase, turned, and scurried off, demonstrating none of the courage of his predecessor to confront the difficulties of real people. In fact, we don’t need his prayers. Father Howard will take care of that from his new home.

Father Howard, if you’re listening, we want you to know that none of us ever felt you were “broken.” We always believed in you, supported you, and admired you for all you did and all you were to us.

We’re sure you heard the homily too. It was all we could do not to turn our backs and walk out of the church. But then we asked ourselves, “What would you have done?” It is because of the example you set that we remained. Your empathic and forgiving nature kept us in our seats and reminded us that life should never be about self-centered, politically ambitious men ready to turn their backs on one of their own. It will always be about selfless people like you. We’re glad we stayed because the extended standing ovation you received after the bishop left the church made it all worthwhile.

No, you didn’t get the homily you deserved. But, in reality, we already knew what that sounded like. You lived it for us every day. Thank you for setting such a profound example for us. Your life and legacy will, for the many thousands of friends and family who knew and loved you, never be forgotten. In our eyes, and in the eyes of so many, you were not a sinner at all. You were a saint.


The Nieces and Nephews of Bishop Howard J. Hubbard

EDITOR’S NOTE: This letter was first published in the Times Union.