Mark Gruber, once a nationally acclaimed retreat leader and popular professor at Saint Vincent College, has been dismissed from priestly ministry by the Vatican, which also dissolved his vows as a Benedictine monk.
The decision, announced Tuesday in a news release from Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, stems from a convoluted and disputed case that began when technicians found pictures of naked young men on his computer in 2009. Tuesday's statement said this latest penalty was because he disobeyed the Vatican's order to move to a residence for troubled priests and because he was found to have orchestrated a smear campaign against Saint Vincent Archabbey.
The decision is "related to an intense defamatory campaign against numerous church and monastic officials, including a false allegation made against the archabbot of Saint Vincent Monastery by a former junior monk," the archabbey statement said.
The archabbey said that the unnamed former monk, whose affidavit claimed sexual harassment by Archabbot Douglas Nowicki, has now reportedly sworn that his first statement was false. According to the archabbey, on March 13 he signed a statement saying, "Father Mark Gruber pressured me to execute this false affidavit to support his own efforts to discredit the archabbot ... and wrote parts of it himself. While I deeply regret having filed this false affidavit, I remain fearful of Fr. Gruber to this day."
Mr. Gruber, 57, has long maintained his innocence.
"I can only say that I did not coerce this one to make his statement regarding his being abused by another, that I did not coach him in any way," he said Tuesday. "I have only heard a long time after the statement was produced what it contained. And I have just heard yesterday about the additional statement whereby he retracted his first. I wish him well and realize that many people who have been victimized are filled with complex and contradictory feelings. And I am sure he realizes that he has nothing to be afraid of in my regard."
Redacted copies of the first affidavit were circulated to media long before the website, www.misconductinlatrobe.com, was created and ran the affidavit on its site. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette didn't report the allegation because it did not meet journalistic standards for publication.
Patrick Marker, a victim's advocate from Washington state, runs the Misconduct in Latrobe website. He believes that Mr. Gruber is a victim of retaliation by the archabbot for reportedly having attempted to expose alleged sex abuse related to a scholarship program in the 1980s.
The archabbey said that the allegations against the archabbot were investigated by a former FBI agent and a former Pennsylvania state trooper whose report concluded that they were false and "likely part of a conspiracy ... to discredit the archabbot."
Then-Father Gruber was removed from teaching in August 2009, after thousands of pornographic images were found on his computer. Because some were of young men who might have been minors, the state police were asked to investigate. They initially dropped the case, saying they couldn't determine if any of the young men were under 18, but a year later they identified three minors.
But they traced one of the three illegal photos to a former Saint Vincent student who told them he had downloaded pornography on the priest's computer.
He said that Father Gruber had been unable to defend himself because the priest had heard his sacramental Confession about the download. Priests are forbidden to reveal anything said in Confession.
In 2012 the Vatican ruled Father Gruber guilty of possession of child pornography, abusing the sacrament of Confession and defaming his superior. He was banned from public ministry and told to move to a "religious community" designated by the Vatican.
"On the whole, it seems that this is more about the abbot trying to clear his name by further dragging Father Mark through the mud," said his nephew, Tom Gruber of Pleasant Hills.
"At no point has my uncle had a hearing on this or any other claim that has been made against him. He has committed no crime. ... and there is no evidence presented against him that has not been widely discredited," his nephew said. "He is an innocent man that is being punished for speaking out against the problems that he perceived at Saint Vincent."
Ann Rodgers: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416. First Published July 30, 2013 2:45 PM