St. Vincent Students Fight for Return of Ousted Monk

By Ann Rodgers
February 22, 2010

As Vatican officials consider whether a popular Benedictine monk may return to ministry after pornography was found on his computer, some students at St. Vincent College are rallying to support him, arguing that the case against him is flawed.

On Wednesday, 73 of them went to class in T-shirts printed with the question, "Where is Fr. Mark Gruber?" Beneath that was a quotation from the Rule of St. Benedict, which said a monk has true humility "if hard and distasteful things are commanded, nay -- even though injuries are inflicted, he accept them with patience and even temper, and not grow weary or give up, but hold out ..."

The back said, "Priest. Professor. Friend. Due process?"

"There has been an extreme injustice done to a very good man," said Michael Cartier, 22, a senior philosophy major.

Father Gruber, 53, was removed from his post as an anthropology professor and banned from all ministry and contact with students in July. Campus computer technicians had found pornography on his computer as they searched for the source of an e-mail criticizing the college administration.

The names of many porn sites the computer had visited contained the word "boys," so Archabbot Douglas Nowicki called the state police to investigate suspected child pornography. But the police concluded that there was no evidence that any of the "nude young men" in the pictures were minors. They also reported finding evidence that other people used Father Gruber's computer.

But, citing higher standards in the church, the archabbot and Bishop Lawrence Brandt of the Diocese of Greensburg revoked Father Gruber's faculties. They sent the canonical case against him to Rome's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees accusations that clergy have sexually abused minors.

Father Gruber, an authority on the Coptic Christians of Egypt, was known to many students for his Midnight Clearinghouse. He invited them to his office at 11 p.m. to talk about whatever was on their minds. Most questions were about faith.

Kelsey Sullivan, 21, a senior majoring in English and an organizer of the T-shirt protest, knew him primarily through the Midnight Clearninghouse.

"His talks had a big impact on my faith," she said. "I really feel that, at the very least, there wasn't due process."

School officials say they followed the rules for dealing with a priest suspected of child sexual abuse, as well as the faculty handbook, which allows the archabbot to remove a monk from the school at his discretion. But students aren't the only ones to raise questions about why Father Gruber's case went to the Vatican office that deals with child sexual abuse when the police report found no evidence of it.

Nicholas Cafardi, a civil and canon lawyer on the faculty of the Duquesne University law school and an expert on the church's process of handling sex abuse cases, doubts Rome will uphold the charge. He isn't involved in Father Gruber's case.

The referral to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "is puzzling," he said. Although that office can remove priests for other serious reasons, "to date, viewing non-child pornography has not been considered such a case."

Don Orlando, a spokesman for the college, said the archabbot and bishop wanted to exercise every precaution because the pornography involved young people.

"The bishop and the archabbot made the decision to have it reviewed by whatever church authority was appropriate," he said. "They felt they were doing what the current church law would require them to do."

Many of his current and former students don't believe Father Gruber put pornography of any kind on the computer. They have faith in his character, but also say he was so technologically inept that he did little of his own computing. Other people had opportunities to download porn while the computer was logged on in his name, they said.

"Father Mark types with his two index fingers," said Frank Chappell, a 2008 graduate of St. Vincent who worked in Father Gruber's office at a work-study job for three years and is now a graduate student in Illinois.

"He would dictate his e-mails to me," he said.

He would leave students alone to write letters for him. Students were in and out of the office whether Father Gruber was there or not, Mr. Chappell said.

His desktop computer was in a large outer office that contained a conference table and art he had brought back from Egypt. He had no computer in the small inner office that he used for academic or spiritual counseling, Mr. Chappell said.

"His computer was never logged out. It was always logged in under his password. I'm sure part of the reason was that he didn't remember the password or know how to log on," he said. "Father Mark knew everyone who would come in and out of his office, and he trusted everyone. I don't think he thought anyone would do anything harmful."

Father Gruber was so inept with the computer that if someone sent him a link, he asked for help to open it, said John Allen, a senior and another of Father Gruber's former work-study students. His behavior showed he had nothing to hide, Mr. Allen said.

"If he was really guilty of these things, he wouldn't be letting anyone and everyone into his computer, even when he's not there. He would be more paranoid about it," he said.

He helped Father Gruber with a small publishing company that printed the retreat talks he gave at monasteries nationwide. Mr. Allen sometimes traveled with Father Gruber and said he never saw any inappropriate behavior.

Father Gruber had publicly criticized the college administration for what he saw as theological shallowness and a failure of collegiality. But he took the administration's side when students complained about a new Internet filter that prevented them from visiting porn or gambling sites in their dormitory rooms and common areas.

At a Midnight Clearinghouse, "he said this was a good thing," Mr. Allen said.

But because the faculty Internet system had no such filter -- a fact Mr. Orlando confirmed -- students who could no longer download porn in their rooms may have taken advantage of his trust, Mr. Allen said.

"Father Mark's computer was more accessible since his office was such an open door," he said.

But Mr. Orlando said the university's investigation found otherwise.

"The college fully investigated the possibility that others had used Father Gruber's computer to view pornography. 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," he said.

The nearly 1,500 people who have formed a Facebook support group, "Friends of Father Mark," don't find that convincing. It helped to publicize the T-shirt protest. Only 53 students ordered shirts ahead of time, but the 20 extras that organizers bought were snapped up before noon by students who wanted to join in.

"Seventy people on a large campus doesn't do so much, but it's still significant. It speaks to Father Mark's character and the situation," said Mr. Allen, one of the organizers.

The Ash Wednesday timing wasn't planned, he said. The protest was postponed from a week earlier when snow cancelled classes.

"But it fits very well with Ash Wednesday and prayer for repentance of all involved," Mr. Allen said. "Lent is a season of prayer and everyone needs to examine their conscience."


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