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Looking the Other Way

September 7, 2010

When last we left the saga of the Rev. Mark Gruber and Saint Vincent College, the monk and professor had been barred from the campus and stripped of all his duties after college officials accused him of downloading child pornography on a computer outside his office that many students and staff members used. Local police declined to file charges after an investigation, saying that none of the images uncovered in their investigation were of underage men.

But Saint Vincent administrators, and the Benedictine abbey with which the Roman Catholic college is affiliated -- both of which Father Mark had criticized for their oversight of the college -- punished him and sent his case to the Vatican, saying he clearly violated state law by viewing male pornography.

It now appears that college and abbey officials ignored powerful evidence that Father Mark was not responsible for the pornography found on the computer.

Friday, in a defamation lawsuit filed against college and church officials, Father Mark asserted that another Saint Vincent employee came forward to tell college and church officials last December that he, and not the priest, had downloaded the material. (An interview months later by Pennsylvania State Police affirmed the authenticity of the employee's claim.) Yet rather than reinstate Father Mark, the lawsuit alleges, Saint Vincent officials continued to assert his guilt in public and private venues, and to punish him in multiple ways.

"The Defendants have intentionally, recklessly and/or negligently falsely disclosed and/or misrepresented facts and concealed and omitted others to allow the world to believe that Father Mark is a child molester and/or pedophile," the lawsuit alleges.

Officials at the college and at Saint Vincent Archabbey did not respond to requests from Inside Higher Ed for comment on the allegations in the lawsuit. They also declined to talk to local newspapers that reported Saturday on the lawsuit's filing.

The lawsuit attributes the decline in the relationship between the priest and college administrators in large part to Father Mark's criticisms of Saint Vincent's former president, James H. Towey, throughout 2007 and 2008. The complaint specifically mentions Father Mark's comments in an April 2008 article in Inside Higher Ed, in which the 23-year veteran of the college was one of the few faculty and staff members -- among the many to whom Inside Higher Ed spoke -- who were willing to attach their names to their criticisms.

Discussing a letter signed by most of the college's tenured faculty members that blasted Towey and the Right Rev. Douglas Nowicki, who headed the Saint Vincent Archabbey board, Father Mark said then: "The tenured faculty took the lead, fortunately, but there are a lot of other people who share their views, and who are tired of the overriding of collegial discourse, the discounting of the consensus way of decision making, and what I see as the obfuscation of our Catholic mission."

The lawsuit suggests that Father Mark's public critiques, as well as an unfavorable assessment he delivered to the college's board as a spokesman for the faculty in December 2008, "were not favorably received by the Saint Vincent Defendants." In July 2009, suspicious that Father Mark had been responsible for a satirical essay about Towey and the archbishop, the lawsuit alleges, Saint Vincent administrators searched a computer near his office and found male pornography.

That prompted a series of events -- reported last November by Inside Higher Ed -- in which Saint Vincent and the Benedictine archabbey essentially stripped Father Mark of all of his teaching and religious duties, rights and responsibilities, despite what police reports indicated was questionable evidence that he had engaged in wrongdoing.

Another Person Comes Forward

The lawsuit picks up from there, describing the extent to which Archabbot Nowicki, Towey, and others at the college and archabbey repeatedly asserted in public and private settings that Father Mark's "priestly and faculty appointments had been revoked" because he had viewed child pornography and male pornography on his computer. Archabbey officials also directed him to seek treatment at Benedictine facilities that specialize in treating sex offenders, the lawsuit alleges, and at the same time denied him treatment for an array of physical and mental ailments that he has developed over the past year.

The most dramatic new piece of information contained in Father Mark's legal complaint, though, is that in December 2009, an employee of Saint Vincent came forward to officials of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, to testify under oath that "he, unbeknownst to Father Mark, utilized the subject computer to download homosexual pornography precisely during the week of July 20, 2009 and was solely responsible for the subject pornography." The unidentified witness, the lawsuit states, had told Father Mark about his actions in confession, but the priest had kept the information confidential, "even to the point of losing his job, his priestly faculties, and allowing his reputation to be maligned."

Representatives of the Youngstown diocese shared the witness's information with the Vatican and with Archabbot Nowicki, according to the lawsuit, but officials of the college and the archabbey continued to assert in public settings that all evidence pointed to Father Mark's guilt. "The college fully investigated the possibility that others had used Father Gruber's computer to view pornography," a Saint Vincent spokesman, Don Orlando, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in February. "The college's analysis of the manner and sequence in which Father Gruber's computer was used indicates that Father Gruber was operating it when pornography was being viewed."

To this day, Saint Vincent officials have not told Father Mark and his lawyer that another person had come forward to accept responsibility for downloading pornography on his computer; the priest learned about the admission only in June, when his lawyer requested and received a report from the Pennsylvania State Police that laid out state troopers' own continuing investigation into the situation involving Father Mark.

According to the complaint, which draws heavily from the police report, Saint Vincent officials called state troopers to the college on December 16, the day after the witness came forward to the Youngstown diocese to testify that he had downloaded the pornography. Saint Vincent officials did not tell the state trooper, Glenn Bard, about the witness. Still, he reopened the investigation and started a months-long process of trying to force Yahoo and Hotmail to release information about e-mail accounts used on Father Mark's computer that Bard believed had been used to download pornography.

In March, according to Bard's report, he and another trooper were approached by a Saint Vincent employee who gave them the deposition Youngstown diocese officials had taken in December from the witness who had claimed responsibility for the pornography download. On April 1, according to the lawsuit, the troopers visited the witness, who reiterated to the officers what he had previously told the Youngstown diocese officials. "Trooper Bard noted that as they interviewed this individual, they asked questions that only the actor should know about the incident, and that this individual was able to answer all of the questions," the lawsuit states.

The officers brought the information to the local district attorney, who concluded in early June that "the case [against the witness] was not prosecutable." At that time, the case against Father Mark was again closed, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges that Saint Vincent College and archabbey officials -- by publicly and privately proclaiming that Father Mark had illicitly downloaded and viewed adult and child pornography on a college computer, even after another person had credibly come forward to accept responsibility for doing so -- engaged in a conspiracy to defame him. The lawsuit seeks damages.

 

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