by Elizabeth DeLyser, Copy Editor
Mark Gruber, a former anthropology professor and Benedictine monk, filed suit against Saint Vincent College and several of its employees in early September, intending to sue for defamation and a multitude of other counts. On September 29th, the charged parties filed preliminary objections to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit stems from a previous controversy. In August 2009, Archabbot Douglas Nowicki revoked Gruber of his priestly and faculty appointments for conduct unbecoming of a priest, charging that Gruber was guilty of involvement with homosexual youth-oriented pornographic materials, despite Gruber’s objections and claims of innocence.
Since then, Gruber has filed suit against Nowicki, former SVC president James Towey, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean John Smetanka, SVC Chief Information Officer Eddie Dejthai, SVC Chief Media Spokesperson Don Orlando, Dean of the McKenna School Gary Quinlivan and the Greensburg diocese’s bishop, Lawrence Brandt, as well as Saint Vincent College and Seminary and The Benedictine Society in Westmoreland County. Gruber charged various parties with defamation, invasion of privacy under false light, fraud, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process, tortious interference with business relations, negligence, negligent misrepresentation and corporate negligence.
Gruber’s complaint alleges that because he criticized the administration of SVC, the administration conspired against him to harm him and his reputation. Gruber, along with many other tenured faculty members, signed a letter to SVC’s Board of Directors about an “unparalleled crisis” facing SVC due to a “systematic and pervasive disregard for collegiality and shared governance” exhibited by Towey. Gruber was also quoted in an online article, discussing how many people besides the tenured faculty shared these critical views.
The chain of events leading to Gruber’s removal began on July 9, 2009, when many tenured members of faculty received an email Gruber describes as “a satirical essay.” The email forwarded a fictional email from “Campion” addressed to President Towey that discussed their mutual plans to destroy and “[run] Saint Vincent down into the dirt.” The letter also insulted the archabbot, Dr. Smetanka, Don Orlando and Eddie Dejthai. The administration investigated the origins of the fraudulent email and determined that it had originated from Gruber’s computer.
As a result, Gruber’s computer was monitored and investigated by Dejthai, who discovered “homosexual youth-oriented pornography” on it. Out of concern for the illegality of child pornography, SVC notified the Pennsylvania State Police, who then investigated the matter.
The investigating officer found pornographic images on the computer but could not determine the age of any of the pictures males to be under 18 and also found that many people had access to Gruber’s computer. Due to this lack of evidence, he therefore recommended that no criminal prosecution be sought. Because the officer did not determine that Gruber hadn’t used the computer to view the questionable material, Nowicki removed Gruber’s faculty and priestly appointments.
Gruber asserts that without any proof of wrongdoing, Smetanka, Quinlivan, Towey and Nowicki circulated the information that Gruber had viewed child pornography on his computer and had been removed from SVC. Gruber claims that the aforementioned parties defamed him by spreading false statements that damaged his character and reputation.
The SVC defendants, however, counter that at no point during the police investigation or in Gruber’s legal complaint did he ever explicitly say that the accusations or statements made were false. Because Gruber has not outright said that he did not use his computer to view the pornography in his legal suit or to the police, the defendants say that Gruber cannot prove defamation. Gruber’s complaint does, however, describe Gruber as “vehemently declaring his innocence of all charges” during points throughout the proceedings.
Further complicating the issue is an unknown former student, who confessed to Gruber under the seal of confession that he had used Gruber’s computer to download the homosexual pornography. The anonymous third party asserted that Gruber had defended the seal of the confession “even to the point of losing his job, his priestly faculties, and allowing his reputation to be maligned.” The former student gave sworn testimony to canonical experts, who then gave a copy to SVC. Gruber stated he was not told by SVC administration that the student had come forward. The student also spoke to the state police and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, admitting that he was the source of the images. The student backed up these claims to the police by describing details about the images and files that only the source of them could know.
SVC, however, asserts that even if the former student’s story is accurate, Gruber holds blame as well.
“An admission by another person that they were responsible for some of the pornography on the computer does not negate Father Gruber’s responsibility for misuse of the computer,” W. Thomas McGough Jr. of the Reed Smith law firm told a reporter from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. McGough is the legal representation for the Saint Vincent defendants.
If Gruber’s suit goes to trial, it will not be for a year or two. The case is currently in a “period of discovery,” where testimonies are collected and the facts are firmly established.
Until then, Gruber remains banned from SVC campus without his job or priestly office, and the student who confessed to him claims to struggle with suicidal thoughts as a result of his confused sexual orientation, according to the Post-Gazette.
Don Orlando declined comment on Gruber’s allegations, as both an individual named in the lawsuit and as the Chief Media Spokesperson for SVC.