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Fate of St. Vincent College priest-professor rests in Vatican

| Friday, April 27, 2012, 4:28 a.m.

The fate of a St. Vincent College professor suspended from teaching and stripped of his functions as a priest because of alleged sexual misconduct rests with Vatican officials, according to St. Vincent Archabbot Douglas Nowicki.

At issue is the future of the Rev. Mark Gruber, 53, an associate professor of anthropology who was the subject of an investigation earlier this year that ended with state police saying their findings "did not support the allegations against him," according to a police report. Police indicated they would not pursue criminal charges against Gruber at that time.

In July, college President James Towey, Nowicki and other college officials met with police to discuss allegations Gruber was using a college computer "to view child pornography," according to a police report.

At the time, Gruber told police, "I would be surprised to learn if there were any child porn on my computer," the report states.

Police said Gruber's computer is in a seminar room adjacent to his office and is used by others.

"It is apparent that others had access to the computer," police said.

Although police "found no evidence of any crime and no access to child porn sites" they did find photos and videos of nude young men who all appeared to be over the age of 18, the police report states.

" ... the exact ages of the young males depicted in these materials could not be precisely determined," college spokesman Don Orlando said. "Therefore, the college was advised by the state police that they declined to prosecute the case at that time."

Gruber has not been available to talk about the case and his attorney, Sharon Smith of Mt. Lebanon, would not comment about the probe or her client's next step.

Orlando said Gruber used his own user name and password to repeatedly access the Web sites.

"Because of the graphic nature of the pornographic Web sites repeatedly visited, it is a matter of grave concern vis-a-vis church law," Orlando said.

Gruber is a priest and monk with St. Vincent Archabbey, which operates the oldest Benedictine monastery in the United States on the St. Vincent College campus near Latrobe. Nowicki heads the archabbey and directs the assignments of its monks and priests.

"It has not been my practice to discuss publicly the basis for decisions pertaining to the assignment of monks in the archabbey. I will continue that tradition," Nowicki said. "I will ... say that because Father Mark's conduct potentially involves the violation of church law, the matter has been referred to the appropriate office with the Holy See."

Meanwhile, St. Vincent College officials are being urged by a national educators' group to reconsider Gruber's suspension from teaching at the school.

In a letter to Towey, the American Association of University Professors said Gruber's removal is "at odds" with policies outlined in the school's faculty handbook because he has not had a formal hearing on the matter.

Orlando said the association "has no authority or jurisdiction concerning the assignment of monks in the archabbey. Father Gruber's role as a professor has to take into account his role as a monk and priest."

Nicholas Cafardi, a professor at the Duquesne University School of Law and expert in canon law, said Gruber, as a priest, takes a vow of obedience to Nowicki and "those vows are going to trump any kind of faculty handbook rights."

Dr. Matt Fisher, president of the St. Vincent faculty council, would not discuss Gruber's case.

Diocese of Greensburg Bishop Lawrence Brandt and Nowicki agreed to strip Gruber of his priestly functions, such as celebrating Mass or hearing confessions, Orlando said. He is barred from campus and from having any contact with students, according to court documents filed by his attorneys.

Diocese of Greensburg spokesman Jerry Zufelt would not comment on the matter.

At the July meeting with police, St. Vincent's information and technology director said it appeared a "wiping" program had been used to remove the files from Gruber's computer hard drive.

A preliminary examination of the computer by police showed visits to sites in Russia and the Czech Republic where child pornography is sometimes found, the incident report states.

B. Robert Kreizer, associate secretary of the professors' association, said his group will begin a formal investigation if St. Vincent fails to reinstate Gruber to his teaching post. The association is a nationwide group of academics who promote academic freedom and professional standards in higher education.

Gruber, who has written seven books and holds a doctorate in anthropology, has been on sabbatical this semester but has been living in St. Vincent Archabbey, according to Smith.

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