Priest's mysterious death complicates
By Michael S. Rose
Two separate accusations that Bishop Howard Hubbard had homosexual relations, including paying for sex with a 16-year-old minor, have left the leader of the Albany diocese embarrassed and humiliated. At press conferences, in public statements, and on talk radio he has steadfastly refuted both allegations, saying that he has "never had sexual relations with anyone."
But it is the death of Fr. John Minkler that has severely complicated matters for the accused bishop. Fr. Minkler,
57, was found dead in his home on Sunday, February 15. Three days before, the deceased priest was identified in a television news report as the author of a 1995 report addressed to New York’s Cardinal John J. O’Connor. Among other things, the letter detailed "a ring of homosexual Albany priests" including Bishop Howard Hubbard’s alleged long-term homosexual relationships with two younger priests.
Police won’t say how Fr. Minkler died, only that the circumstances surrounding his death are not yet clear. The coroner has yet to release his report of the autopsy.
But that’s only the beginning. Bishop Hubbard appears to be caught in a lie, and according to sources close to the late priest, the bishop may also have forced Fr. Minkler to lie.
In a Feb. 16 press conference (the day after Fr. Minkler's death), Bishop Hubbard announced that Fr. Minkler disavowed authorship of the controversial report in a written affidavit signed at diocesan headquarters two days before his death. The bishop also claimed that Fr. Minkler arrived there of his own free-will and assured everyone that he was not summoned there: "Fr. Minkler made an appointment to see me, and he told me that he did not author the letter, and he wanted to be with me face-to-face and to assure me that he had not written anything to Cardinal O’Connor about me…and he did not know how his name got associated with the letter."
Stephen Brady, head of the Illinois-based Roman Catholic Faithful, was the first to contradict that report of events. Brady revealed that Fr. Minkler had been working with his lay Catholic group for at least three years in order to document homosexual misconduct and abuse among Albany priests, including Bishop Howard Hubbard. "[Fr.] Minkler was scared to death that the bishop would find out," Brady told Albany’s Times-Union. Brady said the priest left him a voice mail message asking for advice the day before his death.
Brady confirmed that Fr. Minkler was indeed the author of the controversial 1995 report. The priest sent Brady a copy of the report in 2001, and although the report itself was signed with the pseudonym "Henry," the fax coversheet accompanying the letter was signed by Fr. Minkler.
According to Paul Likoudis, news editor for The Wanderer, he received a phone call from Fr. Minkler shortly after the priest returned from signing the affidavit. In the course of their conversation, said Likoudis, Fr. Minkler indicated that, contrary to Bishop Hubbard’s claim, he was summoned to the chancery by diocesan chancellor Fr. Kenneth Doyle, former spokesman for the U.S. bishops conference in Washington. According to Likoudis, Fr. Minkler explained that Fr. Doyle had the affidavit all made out and told the priest to sign it during their brief meeting.
Fr. Joseph F. Wilson of the Diocese of Brooklyn also spoke with Fr. Minkler by telephone that same evening. Although the Albany priest made no mention to him of being summoned to the chancery, he did tell Fr. Wilson that "the bishop made me lie." Fr. Wilson said he assumed Fr. Minkler was referring to being forced to sign the affidavit disavowing authorship of the 1995 report to Cardinal O’Connor.
"I talked to Fr. Minkler for about an hour," Fr. Wilson explained. "He wanted advice on how to smooth things over with his bishop. I had no reservations whatsoever about his state of mind when I finished talking to him that night." Fr. Wilson added that the Albany priest also mentioned that he had talked with at least one other priest and a lay canon lawyer to solicit advice that same evening. "Not exactly the actions of a man who’s planning to commit suicide," commented Fr. Wilson.
Likoudis agreed, but admits that he doesn’t know the circumstances surrounding the priest’s death, other than that they seem suspicious. "It’s all speculation at this point," he said. What is not speculation is the fact that Fr. Minkler, a former secretary to Cardinal O’Connor, was asked by the late Archbishop of New York to prepare a brief detailing clerical corruption in the Albany diocese. That report, said Likoudis, was supposedly delivered directly into the hands of Pope John Paul II during a private 1995 meeting with Cardinal O’Connor, who was allegedly trying to facilitate the removal of the Albany bishop.
Likoudis was a featured speaker, along with Stephen Brady, at a public meeting held by Roman Catholic Faithful at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Albany a week after Fr. Minkler’s death. Likoudis told a crowd of 500 that for the past 13 years Fr. Minkler was a trusted source of inside information in the Diocese of Albany. In 1991, Likoudis added, Fr. Minkler was a primary source for a series of Wanderer articles ("Agony in Albany") critical of Bishop Howard Hubbard.
Brady revealed that Fr. Minkler was also a close collaborator with Roman Catholic Faithful: "Fr. Minkler had been seeking RCF’s assistance to help bring about reformative changes in the Albany diocese."
Fr. Minkler is not the first priest associated with Roman Catholic Faithful to die under mysterious circumstances. In 1998 Fr. Alfred Kunz was murdered at his rural Wisconsin parish. His throat was slit by a razor blade, and he bled to death before his body was discovered the next morning. Although the subject of one of the most extensive FBI investigations in Wisconsin history, the murder of Fr. Kunz remains a mystery.
Fr. Kunz was an accomplished canon lawyer who lent his expert assistance to Brady as Roman Catholic Faithful investigated homosexual corruption in the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois. Less than two years after the death of Fr. Kunz, Springfield’s Bishop Daniel Ryan resigned after Frank Bergen, a former male prostitute, identified the bishop as one of his regular high-paying clients for 11 years, going so far as to describe in detail the bishop’s private residence. Bishop Ryan, however, steadfastly denied that charge and others for years before he resigned.
One of Bishop Hubbard’s accusers is also a former male prostitute. Anthony Bonneau, now 40, says he was a 16-year-old runaway when the Albany bishop twice paid him for sex in Albany’s Washington Park. Bonneau told the Times-Union that he recognized Hubbard as one of his johns about ten years ago when he saw the bishop on television. At the time, he said he told only his wife.
Bonneau, a self-described born-again Christian, called the bishop "a Washington Park predator." He came forward with his allegations, he said, only after he saw Bishop Howard Hubbard deliver his public statement of denial about the first accusation of a homosexual encounter. He stated he has no intention of filing a suit against the diocese, and is motivated only out of a sense of Christian duty in hopes of protecting other children.
"I was appalled, I was totally appalled," Bonneau said of Bishop Hubbard’s assertion that he’s "never had sexual relations with anyone."
"There were many times he approached me," Bonneau announced at an Albany press conference. "There were also times when he paid me cash to have sex with him. It hurts me…to think that this person [Bishop Hubbard] could stand there and lie to the public."
Albany Chancellor Fr. Kenneth Doyle responded to Bonneau’s allegations. According to the Times-Union (Feb. 7, 2004), Fr. Doyle "repeated Hubbard’s statement that the bishop has never broken his vow of celibacy, which Doyle said includes any oral contact or fondling."
Bishop Hubbard also found an ally in Fr. Joseph Cebula of Schenectady. Fr. Cebula told the Times-Union that he’s confident his bishop did nothing wrong: "I think [Hubbard] is a man of integrity and honesty. He’s a man of his word, and I think he’s a moral person too."
After two allegations were leveled against Bishop Hubbard, the Albany shepherd was quick to try to clear his name. Once he heard of the first accusation—Albany native Andrew Zalay came forward with a recently-discovered suicide note allegedly typed out by his brother, who claimed to be having a homosexual relationship with a bishop named Howard before setting himself ablaze in his Albany home—the bishop cut short his vacation in Florida to return home to the eye of the storm.
Determined to restore his reputation, Bishop Hubbard said that rather than waiting for vindication in a protracted legal battle, he is planning to appeal to the court of public opinion. Apart from his chancery staff and other collaborators, the public in Albany seems so willing to believe the accusations against their bishop—whether they are true or not—for a number of compelling reasons.
Victims rights advocates, for example, have criticized Bishop Hubbard for his opposition to the U.S. bishops "zero tolerance" policy adopted by the national conference in 2002. That policy states that any priest who has had sexual contact with a child—even if only once—be removed from ministry immediately and permanently. Bishop Hubbard defended his stance in the name of "compassion and forgiveness" for first time offenders.
Many Catholics in the Diocese of Albany and beyond have also been critical of Bishop Hubbard for further reasons, not the least of which is promotion of a homosexualist agenda within the Catholic Church. For example, in 1991 the bishop defended his practice of ordaining known homosexual priests, telling the Times Union: "I believe the Church has a responsibility to all its members…I don’t think gays or anybody else should be excluded from the ministry. Indeed, I think we have a responsibility to reach out to them with sensitivity and compassion" (Feb. 22, 1991).
As detailed in Paul Likoudis’s 2002 book Amchurch Comes Out, a number of priests ordained by Bishop Hubbard (who is, by the way, the episcopal moderator for the National Catholic AIDS Network) have since left the priesthood to "marry" another man, homosexually abused minors, and one—formerly Fr. Dennis Brennan—underwent a sex-change operation and legally changed his name to Denise, all with Bishop Hubbard’s "understanding and guidance" (New York Post, Feb. 15, 2000).
Along with Bishop Hubbard’s neighboring Diocese of Rochester, under the leadership of Hubbard’s longtime friend Bishop Matthew Clark, the Diocese of Albany has long been known as one of the most gay-friendly dioceses in the nation.
Although Bishop Howard Hubbard is setting out with great gusto to prove himself innocent of any and all allegations of homosexual misconduct, his greater challenge is going to be disassociating himself from suspicion that he has anything whatsoever to do with the mysterious death of Fr. John Minkler, the bishop’s longtime detractor.
Note: The Diocese of Albany has contracted former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White at $770 per hour in order to investigate the sexual allegations against Bishop Howard Hubbard. White invites anybody with information about possible sexual misconduct about Bishop Hubbard to contact her by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 1-800-901-6853.
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