Suspended St. Vincent Professor Drops Suit against College

A Roman Catholic priest and professor at St. Vincent College, suspended for allegedly downloading child pornography on a school computer, has dropped a defamation lawsuit against the school and diocese officials after undergoing a nine-hour deposition by college attorneys.

Mark Gruber withdrew the suit Wednesday in Westmoreland County without explanation. His attorney, Sharon Smith of Mt. Lebanon, did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement released yesterday in response to the dismissal, Benedictine Archabbot Douglas Nowicki said that during the deposition, given under oath, “Father Gruber finally had to confront his egregious conduct.”

Gruber had denied the accusation in a court filing in connection with the lawsuit against officials from the Unity college and the Diocese of Greensburg.

Nowicki did not specify what that conduct was. Depositions are not public record and are sealed prior to trial, so it cannot be determined what questions Gruber was asked or what his answers were.

“It has now become apparent that Father Gruber has misled many people and has caused significant harm in our academic and religious communities. If you believe you have been a victim of his deception or misconduct, I urge you to contact me directly so that we can initiate inquiry, healing and reconciliation,” Nowicki said in the statement.

Nowicki said there was no “concession or payment” and that he will continue to press for Gruber’s ouster as a priest with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

The formal process, known as laicization, can be done only by papal decree. If Gruber is laicized, he would remain a priest until he dies but would have no authority to administer the sacraments, according to Catholic canon law.

Gruber would not comment on Nowicki’s statement or on his reason for dropping the suit.

“I don’t want to respond to that right now,” Gruber said.

Dr. Ken Minarik, an optometrist from Belvidere, Ill., has known Gruber since their childhood in West Mifflin. He has been one of Gruber’s strongest advocates, helping to rally more than 1,400 supporters on a Facebook page, “Friends of Father Mark Gruber.”

He said Gruber dropped the suit because he was bound by the seal of confession, which prevents a priest from disclosing anything said during the sacrament of confession.

A former student of Gruber’s, who taught anthropology at the college, told state police last year that he downloaded pornography on Gruber’s computer and had confessed his sin to Gruber.

“I feel that Father Gruber is a moral man above reproach,” Minarik said. “It comes down to the priest-penitent privilege.”

He said he talked to Gruber after the deposition — Gruber described it as “grueling” — and learned that attorneys for the school were planning to depose the former student, whom he described as “depressed, suicidal.”

“Father Gruber will protect the man at any cost,” Minarik said. “Mark said he did well (during the deposition) but was quite shocked at how low they (school) would go to protect themselves. Father Gruber will protect that man at any cost.”

Gruber’s sister, Elaine Gruber Hrinda of McKeesport, said Nowicki’s attorneys threatened to expose the man who admitted to downloading the pornography.

“It’s been a nightmare, certainly for my brother,” she said. “It would be easier to die than what he’s going through. We are all sick about it. Absolutely sick.”

Tom Gruber, the priest’s nephew, said his uncle “would sooner take these ridiculous and groundless accusations upon himself than violate the trust of a penitent.”

He said his uncle is protecting the former student “from becoming another sad headline.”

Gruber was a monk and professor at St. Vincent. Last year, Nowicki suspended Gruber from teaching, and Bishop Lawrence Brandt of the Diocese of Greensburg suspended him from serving as a priest. Since then, Gruber has been in ecclesiastical limbo, forbidden to teach, preach or organize spiritual retreats.

Nowicki triggered a state police probe of Gruber last year. Police did not file charges, and the Westmoreland County District Attorney’s Office found no evidence of criminality after photos of nude, adult men were found on the hard drive of Gruber’s computer.

Though he was cleared in the investigations, Gruber was not reinstated. He filed a lawsuit naming as defendants Nowicki; former president James Towey; Bishop Brandt; Dr. John Smetanka, academic dean; Dr. Gary Quinlivan, dean of the McKenna School of Business; Don Orlando, director of public relations; and Eddie Dejthai, chief information officer.

Suspended St. Vincent Professor Drops Suit against College
The Tribune-Review
November 3, 2010