By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
NEW YORK — In addition to a tidal wave of clergy abuse cases that were filed as New York’s “look back” window took effect on August 14, this week also brought about new scrutiny for three members of the American hierarchy.
A court spokesman said that 427 new suits were filed by the close of business on that Wednesday from victims taking advantage of the Child Victim’s Act, which lifts the statute of limitations for a yearlong period for abuse claims against the Church and other institutions.
By the time the window closes next August, that number is estimated to be over a thousand.
Among the cases brought on Wednesday are claims that Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard abused a minor during the 1990s. Hubbard was the head of the Diocese of Albany for 37 years and retired in 2014.
Hubbard, now 80, has denied the allegations, and in a statement on Wednesday the diocese said the charge is “extremely distressing” and that “it is critically important to remember that, like anyone else, Bishop Emeritus Hubbard enjoys the presumption of innocence, and we will withhold any judgment until all the facts are known and this case is resolved.”
The diocese also said it was following the new Vatican guidelines, Vos estis lux mundi, which Pope Francis implemented in May to offer directives on how to handle abuse cases related to bishops.
“Bishop Scharfenberger has informed the Papal Nuncio as well as Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who serves as the Metropolitan Archbishop for the New York Province, of the legal claim against Bishop Hubbard,” said a statement from the Diocese of Albany. “After his conversation with the Cardinal today, Bishop Scharfenberger reported that Cardinal Dolan urged full cooperation with the investigation, expressed gratitude to Pope Francis for the clear directives in Vos Estis, and offered prayers for all involved.”
Meanwhile, Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina – the state’s only diocese – was named in an abuse case filed in New York by a victim alleging that he was abused by Bishop Guglielmone 40 years ago in a parish in Amityville, New York.
Bishop Guglielmone has denied the allegations and in a statement from his lawyer, notes that the plaintiff has admitted to making up the claims in an effort to reap a financial settlement.
Vicars general of the Diocese of Charleston, Monsignors Richard D. Harris and D. Anthony Droze, also released a statement saying Bishop Guglielmone “has been a trusted leader of our diocese for more than 10 years. We have the utmost faith in his truthfulness and in his innocence.”
Meanwhile, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, retired Bishop Joseph Hart is likely to face criminal charges for sexual abuse. Hart, who is also facing a Vatican penal process, is the subject of a recently reopened criminal investigation for abuse during his time as bishop of the diocese, where he served from 1976 – 2001.
The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, where Hart served as a priest for two decades before being named a bishop, has already settled claims against Hart from at least ten victims of abuse.
Should charges be brought against Hart, this will mark the first time a U.S. Catholic bishop has been criminally prosecuted for sexual abuse.
As scores of cases are being brought against New York’s eight Catholic dioceses, Church officials are also promoting the fact that victims are eligible to take advantage of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Programs (IRCP). The IRCP programs, which are voluntary and often rely on a lower standard of evidence, take place outside of the court system.
To date, in the Archdiocese of New York alone, more than $66 million dollars have been paid out to 335 victims.