Priest Claims State Officials Defamed Him
By John P. Martin
January 14, 2013
A former Catholic chaplain at Graterford State Prison says state officials defamed him, wrongfully fired him and tried to block his unemployment benefits after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia suspended him in 2011 amid a review of past misconduct by priests.
The Rev. Robert Povish, 47, of Boyertown, was ultimately removed last year from active ministry by Archbishop Charles Chaput for what the prelate called violations of "boundary issues" with children.
But in a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, Povish accuses prison officials of ignoring his spotless record there over a decade and savaging his reputation by portraying him as a child-sex abuser, something he says he is not.
"To this day, Reverend Povish has never been accused of sexual misconduct. He was not named in any grand jury report, nor have charges ever been filed against him, nor will there ever be," said the lawsuit, filed by North Wales lawyer Brian K. Wiley. "What Reverend Povish no longer has is his reputation. Defendants took that away from him. Then, they took away his job."
The complaint reflects the ripples that continue from the archdiocese's mass suspension two years ago, the largest of its kind since the clergy sex abuse scandal unfolded in the United States.
Povish was one of two dozen priests suspended while church officials reviewed past allegations against them.
Chaput has announced decisions in two-thirds of those cases. Seven priests have been permanently removed from ministry and eight others reinstated. Another died and one, the Rev. Andrew McCormick, is awaiting trial on child-sex assault charges.
Povish, who was ordained in 1990 and began working at Graterford in 2002, has never spoken publicly about the allegations that led to his removal from active ministry. His lawsuit doesn't detail them and neither he nor his lawyer could be reached for comment on Monday.
Church officials have declined to release details on specific accusations but say boundary issues can include inappropriate talk or contact, sharing alcohol or pornography with minors or other conduct that may be construed as "grooming" a victim.
Povish claims prison officials took those allegations and "turned a blind eye to the truth," unfairly lumping him "in with a scandal with which he was not a part."
His 30-page complaint asserts Graterford Superintendent Michael Wenerowicz, prison personnel officer Michael Romascavage and the Department of Corrections violated his civil rights and discriminated against him because he is Catholic.
Both prison officials knew he had not been accused of sexual abuse, he claims, but suspended him anyway and fought his attempts to collect unemployment benefits.
His suit cites letters from Romascavage that say he was placed on leave for "suspicion of sexual misconduct" and that "public perception could be greatly affected" if Povish were able to collect benefits. When the prison administrators lost an appeal to block his benefits, they fired him, he claims.
Povish doesn't outline his losses, but wants a jury trial to award him compensatory damages for the lost income as well as punitive damages for "malicious and recklessly indifferent actions."
Wendy Shaylor, a spokeswoman for the prison, said the department and its officials would not comment on pending litigation or personnel matters.
Contact John P. Martin at 215-925-2649, at firstname.lastname@example.org or @JPMartinInky on Twitter.