Tuesday, February 11, 2014

After 37 Years, Albany Turns – Hubbard Retires, Brooklynite Succeeds

On this first anniversary of a historic papal resignation, the longest episcopal tenure on these shores has reached its close.

At Roman Noon this Tuesday, the Pope retired Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany all of three months after the native son reached the canonical age of 75. Named the New York capital's ninth bishop at the tender age of 38, Hubbard will be succeeded by Msgr Edward Scharfenberger, 65, a priest of Brooklyn currently serving as a pastor and episcopal vicar of Queens.

The Albany church comprises 14 counties up the Hudson, with some 350,000 Catholics.

Alongside the capital nod, Francis named Msgr Andrzej Zglejszewski, 52, the Polish-born co-chancellor and director of worship in Rockville Centre, as auxiliary bishop of the 1.4 million-member Long Island diocese. Returning the suburban turf to its usual complement of three active auxiliaries, Zglejszewski – who came to the US in 1990 to study for the priesthood – fills the slot left by last June's retirement of Bishop John Dunne, who had served for 24 years.

The Big Story, however, is Albany. Beyond being the longest-serving Stateside prelate in the same post, Hubbard's retirement brings the era of the "Jadot bishops" to its end as the last of the young nominees of Paul VI's polarizing legate to Washington from 1973-80 hands over his chair.

In the era of a mandatory retirement age – and with no US prelate having been appointed under 40 in nearly three decades – an epic run of the kind, so many of which have played an equally enduring role across American Catholic history, will not be seen again. In its place, meanwhile, Rome has opted for a relatively brief, bolt-tightening successor in the choice of a cleric with deep pastoral and administrative experience alike.

At his first turn before the Albany crowd this morning, the "humbled" bishop-elect (left) said that "I am not worthy of this office and I hope that our priests, deacons, religious and lay people will pray for me often as, together, we continue along our journey of faith.

"What else do I ask for? What do I hope for? I ask the priests, deacons, religious and laity to help me to be myself – my best self. I promise to love and respect all of you by letting you be who you are and to bring out the best in you. Let’s do this for one another. I will spend every talent that God has given to me, and every ounce of energy, for the Church in Albany."

For his part, the departing bishop added that "we are most grateful that our Holy Father has graced us with such a gifted shepherd and we pledge him our prayers, loyalty, support and love."

Beyond the pleasantries, Scharfenberger's background in both canon and civil law and the handling of clergy sex-abuse cases is notable as the Albany church has been involved in a court fight over the scandals' legacy there. Just last Friday, a Federal appeals court ruled that the diocese didn't have to produce its records of four decades' worth of accusations amid a lawsuit filed by a Vermont man who was abused by an Albany priest.

Having spent most of his Chancery service in the diocesan tribunal, in the wake of the crisis' 2002 eruption Scharfenberger was named promoter of justice for the Brooklyn cases – that is, the chief local prosecutor seeking a cleric's removal, whether in ecclesiastical court or processes involving the Holy See.

Alongside degrees in the canons and moral theology, the bishop-elect became a civil lawyer in 1990 on earning his JD from Fordham, and has been chaplain to Brooklyn's association of Catholic lawyers for the last 12 years. The experience in law will be especially useful in his new charge as – like most large states – New York's capital prelate serves as the principal quarterback for most of the church's public advocacy with the Legislature and other state agencies.

With state government becoming an ever more crucial policy center given the gridlock of a polarized Washington, the role is of increasing import, all the more in the third-largest of the bunch. While the New York bishops have engaged in high-profile clashes with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the state's legalization of same-sex marriage and an ultimately failed 2013 plan to codify Roe v. Wade in state law, in recent days the Empire State's Catholic conference has indicated the passage of a state version of the DREAM Act – a measure allowing the children of undocumented immigrants to receive financial aid for college – as a "top priority" in the current session. (Heavily backed by the US bishops, efforts to pass a Federal DREAM Act have stalled in Congress.)

A divorced Catholic who shares the Executive Mansion with his longtime girlfriend – the Food Network personality Sandra Lee – Cuomo fils (like Scharfenberger, a product of the Outer Boroughs) is expected to be easily re-elected in November.

Back in Brooklyn, meanwhile, the Albany pick is the second priest of the 1.8 million-member diocese to be exported Northward in the last eight months; the auxiliary-vicar general Frank Caggiano was named to Connecticut's Bridgeport church last July.

According to local reports, the ordination is scheduled for April 10th, three days before the start of Holy Week. Having been rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception before his appointment as bishop, Hubbard made a sumptuous restoration of the space (above) one of his final projects in office.

With the Albany file handled in unusually rapid time, six Stateside Latin-church diocese currently remain vacant, with all of four others led by a prelate serving past the retirement age.

SVILUPPO: Via the local NBC affiliate, WNYT, video of the bulk of today's handover press conference, opened with a poignant line from the retiring bishop....