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Cleared St. Vincent priest sues, alleges defamation

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By Richard Gazarik
Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010

The attorney for a suspended priest at St. Vincent College and Archabbey in a defamation action charged that the bishop of the Greensburg Catholic Diocese based his decision on "erroneous allegations and defamatory information" supplied by college officials.

The Rev. Mark Gruber, who is a Benedictine monk and anthropology professor, was suspended from teaching last year by Archabbott Douglas Nowicki. Bishop Lawrence Brandt suspended Gruber's priestly functions after Nowicki and other St. Vincent officials told the bishop that Gruber had downloaded child pornography on a college computer, according to a lawsuit.

Though Gruber is a member of the Benedictine Order, Brandt has authority over all priests within the diocese.

A state police investigation cleared Gruber of any criminality, but the school refused to reinstate him even after a student came forward and admitted that he downloaded some of the material onto a computer used by Gruber, according to the suit.

In addition to Nowicki and Brandt, Gruber has sued former St. Vincent president H. James Towey and several other school officials in Westmoreland County court for accusing Gruber of being a "sexual predator, child molester, deviant ... despite the fact they should have known that those statements were false," wrote attorney Sharon Smith of Mt. Lebanon, who represents Gruber.

The actions by Nowicki and the other defendants placed a "horrific label" on Gruber and forced him to undergo psychiatric treatment, according to the filing.

"The actions of the bishop and diocese ... were grounded in the defamatory information supplied by the St. Vincent defendants," she wrote.

Gruber, who has written several books on anthropology and religion, was a critic of Towey during his tenure as president. He criticized Towey in interviews to national academic publications and served as faculty spokesman in complaining about Towey to the school's board of trustees.

According to the suit, the college was motivated to retaliate against Gruber, who was suspected of authoring an essay that was critical of Towey and falsely contained the signature of another monk.

The investigation was triggered when Eddie Dejthai, director of information technology at St. Vincent, checked the hard drive on Gruber's computer and found pictures of naked males. Dejthai is the son-in-law of Dennis Grace, who was Towey's chief of staff and now is a vice president at the college.

Investigators concluded that the photos were of men older than 18 and said no crime had been committed. District Attorney John Peck, after reviewing the findings, declined to prosecute Gruber.

Towey left St. Vincent in May and was replaced as president by Brother Norman Hipps.

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