Priest Sues Diocesan, College Officials for Libel

By Richard Gazarik
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
September 4, 2010

A priest at St. Vincent College filed a libel suit Friday in Westmoreland County against officials of the Greensburg Catholic Diocese and St. Vincent College, alleging they falsely accused him of being a pedophile even though he was exonerated by state police.

The Rev. Mark Gruber, who is a tenured professor, sued Bishop Lawrence Brandt of the diocese; Benedictine Archabbot Douglas Nowicki of St. Vincent Archabbey; former college president H. James Towey; Dr. John Smetanka, dean of academic affairs; and Dr. Gary Quinlivan, dean of the business school.

Also named as defendants are Don Orlando, director of media relations for St. Vincent, and Eddie Dejthai, director of information technology.

In his lawsuit, Gruber alleges that Towey and Nowicki triggered a criminal investigation of him after pornographic images were discovered on a computer that Gruber used, which was in a common room where he taught anthropology.

Brandt and Nowicki suspended Gruber from celebrating Mass or administering the sacraments as well as teaching, despite a state police finding that Gruber had not committed any crime.

During a follow-up investigation late last year, another individual "confessed" to accessing child pornography on Gruber's computer, according to the suit. The man told troopers that "Father Mark did not ask him to take the blame for the incident" and he understood he could be charged with a crime.

Despite the revelation, officials refused to reinstate Gruber to his duties, according to the lawsuit, and he refused an order by Nowicki to undergo psychiatric treatment at a special facility in Maryland that treats pedophile priests.

Spokesmen for the diocese and college had no comment on the suit. A spokeswoman for the archabbey could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Gruber "vehemently declares his innocence of all the charges," said attorney Sharon K. Smith of Mt. Lebanon.

Smith said there is no evidence to prove Gruber was guilty of viewing child pornography and blamed school officials for failing to investigate the possibility that someone else had used his computer to access the websites.

The suit accuses Smetanka of telling college deans and department heads that Gruber is a pedophile. Towey is accused of telling Quinlivan that pornography was found on Gruber's computer. Quinlivan, according to the suit, "publicly termed Father Mark a child abuser."

Nowicki warned Gruber in October that Gruber should petition Pope Benedict XVI asking to be removed from the priesthood, a formal process known as laicization, or defrocking. Otherwise, Nowicki said, he would force the issue with the Vatican, Gruber claims in the suit.

Gruber believes he ran afoul of college officials because of his outspoken criticism of Towey's tenure as president of the Benedictine school. Towey left St. Vincent in May. In an interview he gave to an educational publication in 2008, Gruber criticized Towey's management of the school.

That same year, Gruber served as faculty spokesman at a meeting of the school's board of trustees in which he delivered a critical assessment of Towey's role as president.

According to the suit, Towey and Nowicki suspected that Gruber was the author of a satirical essay about the two men, which led to Dejthai searching Gruber's computer for evidence of authorship. That's when Dejthai claimed he found the photographs.

Smith alleges the defendants retaliated against Gruber by removing all references about him from college publications. She said Nowicki and Smetanka "fostered a campaign" against Gruber and accused him of being intoxicated during a senior class trip in 2008 even though students on the trip denied that Gruber was drunk.

In Gruber's suit, he contends the school exercises a double standard when it comes to sexual misconduct allegations.


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