Professor-priest banned from ministry over porn


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A Benedictine priest who was once a popular retreat leader and professor at Saint Vincent College has been permanently banned from ministry due to child pornography and other materials found on his computer.

The Rev. Mark Gruber, 57, maintains his innocence but acknowledged the church's authority in an email.

"My innocence of the charges made by my abbot is no longer the issue. There is a whole theology of the Office of St. Peter that I have always upheld. I won't disparage it now simply because it operates to my disadvantage. Those who have supported me in prayer I remain to them grateful to the end. But the other matter of faith and community life impeded by these troubles must go on. I only hope for my family some relief from the pressures of media coverage," he wrote.

The decision appears to bring the tortuous case to an end. Father Gruber taught anthropology at the Benedictine college in Latrobe for 23 years, while establishing a national reputation as a spiritual writer and retreat leader. But he was suddenly removed from his position in August 2009, after technicians found pornography on the computer in his office.

Because some images were of young men who might have been minors, Archabbot Douglas Nowicki turned the computer over to the state police. Their initial report said they couldn't determine if any of the nude young men were younger than 18. The archabbot filed a canonical case against Father Gruber in Rome. Many students and alumni rallied to the priest's defense.

A year later police said they had identified three of the young men in the images as minors. But one was traced to a former Saint Vincent student who told police he had downloaded pornography on the priest's computer. He said that Father Gruber couldn't defend himself because the priest had heard his confession about downloading the pornography. Priests are forbidden to reveal what they hear in confession.

In 2010, Father Gruber sued Saint Vincent College for defamation but dropped the suit in November of that year, saying the legal case posed a "trauma" to others. The college, however, responded that during a deposition the monk "admitted creating pornographic materials" on the college computer "including grossly inappropriate depictions of himself."

Father Gruber's supporters said those images were taken out of context and were part of a dialogue between the priest and some of his anthropology students about sexuality.

According to a summary released by Saint Vincent College, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty of possession of child pornography, production of materials that gravely injure good morals, abuse of the sacrament of Confession -- but not of violating the seal of Confession -- and defamation of a legitimate superior.

He is permanently banned from all public priestly ministry and teaching, and may not present himself as a priest in public. He is forbidden to have contact with anyone under age 18, and all computer use must be strictly supervised. He is ordered to live in a monastery, other than Saint Vincent, that the Vatican will choose.

The statement said that Father Gruber has already exhausted all appeals of a decision that was originally made in June 2011, and that Pope Benedict XVI approved the decision June 30.

Archabbot Nowicki declined to elaborate on the decision.

"Obviously it's a painful situation for everyone," he said.

Tom Gruber of Pleasant Hills, Father Gruber's nephew, proclaimed his uncle's innocence, arguing that the police never found a crime to charge him with and that someone else had confessed to downloading the pornography.

"The bigger issue here is that this punishment amounts to a life sentence," he said. "This is a man with 43 nieces and nephews and many more great nieces and nephews that he won't get to see now, all because someone else used a public computer to access pornography. It's hard to see how this is just. The church is made up of fallible human beings . ... This is a case where they have erred."

The Rev. Louis Vallone, a Pittsburgh priest who has taught canon law at Duquesne University School of Law, said that under church law child pornography is considered a form of child sexual abuse and is treated like molestation.

"Our burden of proof is not the same as it is for the civil courts," he said. "So all it takes for a more serious offense is a single photo of someone who is under 18. That is treated with the same degree of seriousness as someone who is a serial molester."

state

Ann Rodgers: arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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