The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

See you in court: falsely accused priest sues bishop for libel

In a rare move, a priest who has been cleared of charges of sexual abuse is taking aim at his bishop — and others — in court.

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

A priest at St. Vincent College filed a libel suit Friday in Westmoreland County against officials of the Greensburg Catholic Diocese and St. Vincent College, alleging they falsely accused him of being a pedophile even though he was exonerated by state police.

The Rev. Mark Gruber, who is a tenured professor, sued Bishop Lawrence Brandt of the diocese; Benedictine Archabbot Douglas Nowicki of St. Vincent Archabbey; former college president H. James Towey; Dr. John Smetanka, dean of academic affairs; and Dr. Gary Quinlivan, dean of the business school.


Also named as defendants are Don Orlando, director of media relations for St. Vincent, and Eddie Dejthai, director of information technology.

In his lawsuit, Gruber alleges that Towey and Nowicki triggered a criminal investigation of him after pornographic images were discovered on a computer that Gruber used, which was in a common room where he taught anthropology.

Brandt and Nowicki suspended Gruber from celebrating Mass or administering the sacraments as well as teaching, despite a state police finding that Gruber had not committed any crime.

During a follow-up investigation late last year, another individual “confessed” to accessing child pornography on Gruber’s computer, according to the suit. The man told troopers that “Father Mark did not ask him to take the blame for the incident” and he understood he could be charged with a crime.


Despite the revelation, officials refused to reinstate Gruber to his duties, according to the lawsuit, and he refused an order by Nowicki to undergo psychiatric treatment at a special facility in Maryland that treats pedophile priests.

There’s much more at the link.

Comments read comments(17)
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Michael Brandon

posted September 4, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Father Gruber has at least an opportunity to defend himself, unfortunately in a court room setting, but at least he can fight to get his life and reputation back.
It is not so for Father Gordon MacRae of New Hampshire, who has spent over 16 years in jail, courtesy of the NH court system, as I wrote in my blog.
Father MacRae’s plight is best understood by visiting the blog site that was created for him. The button bar at the top lets readers view his Case History, and story.

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Margairto Baldomero

posted September 5, 2010 at 10:56 am

The “special facility in Maryland” is not exclusive for treating pedophile priests. Many of its residents are generally those who have been treated badly and unfairly by the heartless and cruel hierarchy, like that of Fr. Gruber.

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posted September 5, 2010 at 11:24 am

This is the exact problem with witch hunts.
Regardless of whether the ‘facility’ treats more than pedophiles, were someone who was persecuting me tell me to go to such a facility, I, too, would refuse.

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Charis Aquilla

posted September 5, 2010 at 5:06 pm

You are right, Margairto! It is time that the Bishops, abbots, religious superiors and all such officials in the Church take time to care about their priests and not just put them out of the way when they are inconvenient. It seems obvious from Father Mark’s history at the college and abbey that he is the subject of retribution and jealousy. He was an immensely popular professor and retreat master before this happened.

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posted September 5, 2010 at 7:28 pm

While I do feel for Father and find his circumstances vastly unfortunate (an understatement, to say the least), I do have to question his course of action. St. Paul says the following in 1 Corinthians 6:
“When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels?
How much more, matters pertaining to this life! If then you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who are least esteemed by the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you.
Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”

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posted September 5, 2010 at 10:29 pm

It may well be that Fr. Gruber has indeed done all that St Paul requires regarding justice, and the institutional Church simply is not up nowadays to doing anything that St. Paul expects in return. In such case, civil trials may be the only way to quicken moribound prelates to act. Civil cases, after all, made the bishops act at last to protect the young from preditor priests; maybe Fr. Gruber’s case will help the Church soon save itself from reckless ambitious prelates.

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posted September 5, 2010 at 11:56 pm

To just a dre,
Evil prevails when the good man is silent—be assured that this civil suit was not something done lightly, but required to right a terrible wrong…too much time has already elapsed.

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posted September 6, 2010 at 2:08 am

I don’t know. St. Paul’s words echo out to me “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”
I’d like to know whether Rome has been appealed to in this situation. And what their reaction to it.
Suing your own bishop? I don’t know. That just seems wrong to me on every level.
Sometimes more good is gained spiritually by enduring a worldly wrong.

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posted September 6, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Michael Brandon, Fr. MacRae is a poor choice of poster child for the innocent accused. Even if he is innocent of the charges that he was convicted on (which seems to be pretty likely), he is not innocent of sexual abuse of minors, since he admits to having sex with a 16-year-old boy. Prosecutors charged him with that as well, but the victim fled the country rather than to testify and so they dropped those charges. In the strict legal world, if MacRae is innocent of the charges that he was convicted of, he should go free. However, the 2002 rules are Church rules, not secular laws, and those rules say that, convicted or not, his admitted sexual relationship with “Tony” means that MacRae may never again exercise any public ministry in the Church, wear a roman collar, use the title “Father”, etc.
Yeah, there are surely some really hard conversations that we need to have in the Church and as the Church. About how Jesus died on the cross to expiate the sins of all, including pedophiles. But the Church is still in full-fledged retreat. So maybe we should stick to the easy conversations for now. Like we need to re-establish the principle that if you have no actual evidence that a person is guilty, then you can’t take draconian actions against hime as if he’s guilty. Or the principle that if the Church is going to pay out a huge damage award to a person who claims to be a victim, that person has to present an actual story of what, where, when, who — and it can’t violate the laws of space-time.
No, let’s start with the easy conversations — the hard ones can wait for later.

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posted September 6, 2010 at 5:51 pm

There is the right of an individual to sue in this country for many things, some of which are really ridiculous. In this case however, he was wronged by his superiors, who after his being found innocent of the charges still treated him as if he were guilty, by not reinstating him to his previous position. Also wanted him to go to a mental hospital, for “treatment” even though he isn’t guilty! Why? Hope he wins.

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posted September 6, 2010 at 11:25 pm

I just hope that these American “rights” don’t become more important true Christian living. St. Paul is very clear. There are other routes to take other than civil court.

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posted September 7, 2010 at 1:36 pm

St. Paul appealed to his rights as a Roman citizen when he was incarcerated. Father Gruber has a right to his good name. He is not the first priest to do this. Father Gruber is an American citizen with all rights any citizen has namely in this case to pursue justice for himself in a court of law. His superiors persist in treating him as guilty despite having been exonerated. As his superiors sow, so shall they reap….There is NOTHING in canon law which forbids a priest from suing his bishop or anyone else.
Should the victims of sexual abuse simply have remained quiet, or thought of St. Paul’s word’s and just “suffered wrong”?! That is insane!

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Charis Aquila

posted September 9, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Believe me, everyone, Father Mark has agonized over all these questions and he takes this step as the very last resort. To answer St. Paul’s question–is there anyone in the Church who can judge this case? Well, his abbot is accusing him, the Bishop does not care (won’t even see his lawyers) and the Vatican is busy with all their other scandals and so does not have time for him, it seems. Even Cardinal Newman, who is soon to be beatified, sued someone in civil court.

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Ryan A. MacDonald

posted September 9, 2010 at 5:25 pm

CathyF’s comment reminded me of how very difficult it is for a priest to defend himself in the current climate. I am not suggesting that CathyF has written anything amiss,or with prejudice, but the story she refers to about Fr. Gordon MacRae’s “admission” involving a 16 yr. old was reported in The Wall Street Journal as simply an “encounter.” Any meaning attached to this is done by the reader. I happen to know a good deal of this case, and I happen to know that there are five completely different stories brought forward by the individual involved in this “encounter.” I do believe that the entire truth of this matter will be made clear in time, but I do not believe that this priest who is defending his name and his life should be forced to defend himself against an apparently superficial claim that has nothing to do with the reason he is spending decades in prison. This is not a case like Bill Clinton’s that would depend on what you mean by “encounter.” This is a case of a man defending himself against a specific charge, the evidence for which is utter nonsense. Only the hardest of hearts would put him through this.

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Dr. Kenneth Minarik

posted September 9, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Lets keep the emphasis on the criminality of Towey’s actions.
Reviewing the case shows that the police from the beginning had strongly asserted that no crime had been committed on the computer and that no one person, yet alone Fr Mark, could be definitively connected to any of its browsing history. The defamation lies i…n the fact that with exactly the same data, the college administration alleged criminal pornographic activity as only the work of Fr Mark. While the state police alone had the expertise and authority to ferret out true criminal offenders, the college administration had only an agenda without appropriate skills or forensic authority to destroy the life of someone they deemed their enemy.

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posted September 10, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Actually, Ryan, I was trying to comment about the current environment more than about Fr. MacRae specifically. I suspect that under the Dallas Charter, any of the 5 versions of the “Tony” story are enough to get a priest removed from ministry. My parents’ former pastor was removed for an incident that was 30 years old at the time, that the priest had no memory of, so there was no “both sides of the story.” But, furthermore, the victim’s story was that the priest had hugged her too long and too hard on one occasion. His only response was that he was an alcoholic at the time (he had been sober for 25 years at the time he was removed) and he could not be sure that he had not indeed done this.
Every time the subject of the scandals come up it’s pointed out that we have all of these wonderful procedures in place, and that they really work, etc. But what few people seem to realize is that while they work very well against the guilty, but they also work extremely “well” against the totally innocent, like Fr. Gruber, and also those guilty of no more than obnoxious behavior. (I don’t presume to speak for victims of sexual abuse, but I would think that calling a too-long hug “sexual abuse” trivializes real sexual abuse, which is a horrible thing. Most of the members of my parents’ parish are smart enough to realize that this one “victim” was not typical — that thousands of victims suffered terrible things, not just a single over-enthusiastic hug.)

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Ryan A. MacDonald

posted September 10, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Cathyf raises a very important point here not only in regard to Fr. Gruber but Fr. MacRae and other accused priests as well. It is true that the Dallas Charter adopted in 2002 removes from ministry every priest credibly accused. My review of the Fr. MacRae case has been an education in this regard, just as it has been for him. He wrote an excellent article about this entitled,”As the Year of the Priest Ends, are Civil Liberties for for Priests Intact?” It can be found at The problem, as I see it, is that the U.S. bishops have accepted as “credible” every accusation that results in financial settlement, with little to no investigation, and the accused priests are cast aside unless they can “prove” their innocence.
In most cases, that is simply impossible. Fr. Dominic Menna in Boston has recently been removed from ministry after the emergence of a claim alleged to have occurred 51 yrs. ago. He is 80, and must defend himself against a claim alleged to have occurred when he was 29. There is no investigation technique in the world that can either clear him or convict him. He will remain in canonical limbo for the remainder of his life.
It is not so that each of the five stories told by the one accuser of Fr. MacRae, as cited by Cathyf, would result in the priest’s permanent removal. In three of those accounts the accuser insisted to independent investigators that absolutely nothing ever took place, and he was pressured into the accusation because his own criminal charges were being held over his head. Another accuser of Fr. MacRae has gone on record to state that he was offered substantial amounts of money to fabricate an accusation against this priest in order to corroborate the claims of others. The larger question that must be asked by the entire Church is whether the Charter is just. I conclude that it is not. A person cannot be a friend of the Church and an enemy of mercy at the same time. This holds true for the Charter as well. No other country has adopted such an abomination.

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