Monday, September 6, 2010

The Cost of Discipleship

Railroaded Priest Fights Back as Father Mark Gruber Sues For Libel

What does discipleship cost?  That was a good question on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary time this year, as we hear from the Gospel about the need to "hate" our loved ones, in order to commit ourselves fully to the Gospel. 

Once again, the story of a conversation that St. Theresa had with Jesus comes to mind:
Sometimes, however, she couldn't avoid complaining to her closest Friend about the hostility and gossip that surrounded her. When Jesus told her, "Teresa, that's how I treat my friends" Teresa responded, "No wonder you have so few friends." But since Christ has so few friends, she felt they should be good ones. And that's why she decided to reform her Carmelite order.
Father Mark Gruber is a well known Benedictine monk.  He teaches or at least he taught anthropology until recently, at St.Vincent College in Latrobe PA.  He is a well known author and retreat master.  He provided guidance and instruction to students in a common room that also contained the computer that he used for his own purposes, and which was available to all who entered the room.  It was not secured in any way.  Someone viewed homosexual pornographic images from the computer and someone had installed software to remove traces of browsing, though apparently did not remove the last images from the computer.  The police were called and investigated, and laid no charges since none of the images were of youth, and were therfor not illegal, even if they were disgusting.

Yet, Father Gruber was effectively removed from all but the most basics of life.  Here is a newspaper article about the suit that Father Mark Gruber has filed against various parties involved in kicking him to the curb at St. Vincent College in Latrobe PA.  To give better context to the suit here also is an earlier article when the manure and fan blades converged originally.

It certainly appears that Father Gruber has been wrongly accused, and the below letter from a student John J. Allen, supports Father Gruber.  In the letter, some of the detail of the original non-case against Fr. Gruber is told.  I have reproduced the letter because in its original location, it was difficult to read, as the html code was showing, which removed all formatting in the document.
On behalf of the Saint Vincent Community at large and friends and associates of Father Mark Gruber in particular, I address this letter to you with great urgency. As you may have been informed, the case against Father Mark Gruber O.S.B. PhD and turned professor of Anthropology at Saint Vincent College has reached a new intensity. After being stripped of his priestly faculties and removed from his position in the college under allegations of child pornography, Father Gruber has now been publicly humiliated by the unprofessional and improper leaking of lies and half-truths to the local media. Since these latest actions originating from the Archabbot and President of my college I feel it my duty, as a student, friend, and spiritual directee of Father Mark, to affirm the utter falsity of the allegations against him, to attest to his spiritual character, and to offer an inside testimony to the case itself.
I am a senior anthropology major at Saint Vincent College, and while these events certainly influence me as a student, they have even more so affected me on a personal and spiritual level. I came to Saint Vincent College as an English Education major but after one night at Fr. Mark’s “Midnight Clearing House” I asked to speak with this most inspiring and captivating orator in private. That meeting began what was to become a friendship which would last for the next three years. I soon adopted Father Mark as my spiritual director and began seeing him almost weekly for direction regarding my newfound priestly vocation. It was the following year that I switched majors to anthropology to better suit both my academic and religious education at Saint Vincent College. I cannot more strongly emphasize the academic excellence, professionalism, and quality insight with which Father Mark teaches all of his classes. I can honestly say that I have learned more from his class lectures and our spiritual and philosophical dialogues than I have in all of my other classes combined. As a professor and teacher, Father Mark is unmatched at Saint Vincent College in his first rate reputation, which is almost unanimously felt throughout campus. This fact is evidenced through the widespread support and outrage amongst the Saint Vincent community, including over a thousand members on the facebook group “Friends of Father Mark” which rose to this membership just a few days after its conception.
The popularity of Father Mark Gruber is also evident in his “Midnight Clearing House” lecture series for which I have become the organizer and advertiser. Each week at 11:00 pm on Tuesday nights the students gather in Father Mark’s classroom to ask questions regarding religion and contemporary world problems, especially as they relate to the Catholic Church. Father Gruber begins with a thirty minute lecture on the previously suggested topic for the night and ends with an open forum in which people voice their plaguing questions and opinions on various subjects. Father Mark began the group due to student interest and has expressed that the main impetus was to offer an apologetic defense of the faith so that students might not feel obliged to lose their religion in college. I have personally recorded and transcribed many of his lectures and can confirm the staunch orthodoxy and persuasive defense he gives for our Catholic faith. On average there have been thirty of more students coming to these forums weekly, with upwards of fifty to sixty depending on the topic or particular night. I have also helped to engineer a new Bible study that Father Mark provides for students at a separate time and which also has become very successful. All these events have taken place much in opposition to the current administration which removed Father Mark from retreat master of the college with the entrance of Mr. Jim Towey, for the sake of centralizing everything in campus ministry (which in my opinion has been a massive failure). It is clear to me that Father Mark, above any other administrator or professor at Saint Vincent College, has earned the trust and admiration of the students whom he has personally helped and directed on this campus for so long. 
In addition, I have been a work study in Father Mark’s office for the last two years which requires me to be there on a daily basis, correcting tests, making coffee, and cleaning the office. Although I am there for part of my job, I return and linger for the sake of intellectual conversation and fruitful companionship. Father Mark calls his office “a living place because he has a coffee machine.” This certainly is true; professors, students, and friends constantly enter for coffee and discussion throughout the day. This great seminar room where he often holds classes is always open to whoever wishes. I have a key for the room but it is rarely locked unless Father Mark is out of town. The door is always open, even when he is not there, and I have been there alone numerous times with other students waiting hours for his return. This room I have just described is the room in which the computer of interest is located. I have personally used his computer countless times and have witnessed others do the same, without password or supervision. The wisdom of such a room I will not debate, but Father Mark in his naivet√© and old fashioned understanding of computers never thought for once that he was in any danger. I can also confirm Father Mark’s complete ineptitude with computer technology. He constantly employs me and others for the completion of simple everyday tasks on his computer since he is oblivious to computer glitches, email logins, and rebooting techniques. It is highly unlikely, as it has been suggested, that Father Mark was capable of downloading and implementing software or hardware to hide and cover pornographic material. I have spoken with others who regularly assist his computer navigational skills and they have concurred on this account and on the fact that in a combined eight or more years of our experience we have never found anything out of the ordinary on his computer. It is also my personal conviction that Father Mark may be protecting the seal of confession through his somewhat evasive answers and the request to have the Archabbot present upon interrogation. This is not something which can easily be proved by someone in my position but you I am sure have ways of determining this prospect. I recommend that you consult the Inside Higher Education article online which contains the police report link. The report explains that all investigation has ceased since the original accusation of child pornography was unfounded, and attests that the computer was accessed by many others.
Over the years I have met with Father Mark numerous times alone in his office for spiritual direction, as he does with a sometimes oppressive number of spiritual seekers. His renown as a director of the spiritual life, as a preacher, and as a famous retreat master stretches across the nation. Father Mark’s schedule is constantly full not weeks but months and sometimes years in advance. I have been lucky enough to have accompanied him personally on many of these trips to parishes, retreats, and conferences. I have been his driver and also am the new managing editor for his non-profit Saint Vincent Spirituality Publications. It is my job to sell, ship, order, and stock the transcribed retreat talks made into spiritual reading books. I will not elaborate further on the professional achievements of Father Mark as a writer, a priest and a doctor of anthropology since they are too numerous to mention here. I will say that in my many travels with him, one in particular to Canada for a priest retreat, I have never felt more spiritually and emotionally inspired in my faith. His homilies and retreat conferences have changed my life, moved many to tears, and have restored many lost sheep to the fold. Perhaps the most compelling element of his preaching and apologetic discourse is the clear conviction he has in what he preaches. Never have I seen such faith or devotion in any other priest I have ever known.
He and I have been to dinner with many of his friends, relatives, associates and benefactors, which have become mine as well. Those travels and experiences I now treasure as being the most inspirational and memorable of my college career. In addition, it is because of Father Mark that I have had the opportunity to study abroad in Rome this past semester, but unfortunately due to these unforeseen circumstances he was barred from coming as instructor. The lives of those affected by the power play from the Abbot and President, who continue to spread lies through propaganda and media outlets, is more far reaching and monumental than anyone can realize. The fact that everyone is speaking out with such strong assurance on the virtuousness of Father Mark is an indication that such inconsistency in his own moral life is unlikely.
In my letter I have attested to the great influence and inspiration that Father Mark has instilled in my soul and my vocation. I speak on behalf of the lives and souls of countless others for whom I know he has been a spiritual master and educational mentor, when I say that Father Mark is indeed innocent and undeserving of this malice. I sometimes see and read the countless letters he receives from well wishers and religious sisters, always thanking and praising his outstanding ministry and work as a priest and monk of the Saint Vincent community. These facts alone do not confirm the innocence of Father Mark Gruber, but I hope that they provide an additional context in which you can come to behold the same faith in the moral uprightness of this great man.
For me personally, the friendship and guidance I have received from Father Mark is what has sustained my priestly vocation and had inspired me to enter Saint Vincent Archabbey upon graduation. Although this next semester I had made plans to live as a postulant in the monastery while completing my degree, just before my entrance the Archabbot went back on his confirmation due to my sympathies for Father Mark. My plan, my vocation, while seriously being challenged and shaken by all this, has not altogether disintegrated. As a priest, my hope had been to restore purity and holiness to the Catholic Church. While I feel that our generation is still capable of producing such rejuvenation and correction in the Church, this is a drastic step in the wrong direction. Such frequency of false accusations, often employed by members of the Church for political reasons is disheartening and discouraging to a future priest. I hope to still find in the ecclesial body of the Bride of Christ something analogous to the simple scriptural words of spiritual enlightenment and joy I have found in listening to Father Mark Gruber. You have my prayers and encouragement to restore the priestly faculties of Father Mark for the benefit of his flock, to reinstate him as a professor among the students who need his wisdom, and to restore his reputation as a great man for the sake of those who love him.
In the Peace of Christ,
John J. Allen
I wrote to Mr. Allen, to see what developments, aside from the obvious lawsuit were occurring.  Hoping that things were not as bad as appears when one engages in legal action, I was shocked to receive his reply, below today:
I thank you greatly for your email, most especially during these times of trial for Father Mark. Your initiative and good intention is inspiring to me and our small but ever growing community of friends and supporters. I would be most honored if you would include my letter in your article and happy to provide any additional information. I am sure you have access to the latest news articles from the Tribune Review and Pittsburgh Post Gazette; these would be helpful.

Also, relating to your theme of imprisonment, one interesting fact in the midst of all this turmoil is that Father Mark is not allowed to leave the Abbey except to see his parents occasionally and to work on his case with his lawyers. He is not allowed to be present on the college campus or associate with students, so many of whom he has mentored. Additionally, it has been documented that intrusive monitoring of him and his actions has occurred including secret opening and previewing of his mail and other insidious surveillance.

Both a doctor/psychologist and Father Mark's spiritual director in the monastery recommended a spiritual retreat to a Cistercian Monastery in New York to get away from the stress and politics of the Abbey. This request was denied by the Archabbot. Father Mark is thereby forced to endure solitude and discrimination from his supposed "brothers" in Christ, and he is to suffer the label of pedophile by members of the college and local community; despite the fact that the police report, which was written months ago, had cleared him of any such allegation. Even monks are discouraged from speaking with him and even his allies.

My friend in the monastery was told by the Abbot that it was unwise to spend time or talk with me, especially because of the "nasty letter he wrote" (the same one you have mentioned). These kinds of bullying tactics occur daily on the campus and in the monastery. Only now is his story beginning to be made public, even so, it pains Father Mark to see his name return to the papers as a priest suing "the Church". If this could have been resolved in any other manner he would have preferred to settle for that, however the Abbot has stonewalled all other alternatives forcing Father Mark to resolve this situation by legal action himself. 

Father Gruber's case seems to be similar to that of Father Gordon MacRae on whom I wrote the other day in an article subtitled "Priest in Exile."

It seems to me in both cases that the operative motto is "guilty, even if proven innocent."  It is one thing for "society" in the case of Father MacRae to take a run at a Catholic priest.  It is another thing altogether to have the perpetrators of your exile to be those of your own faith, and order, those who you should be able to trust.

The Catholic Church does not seem to be doing well by either of these priests, and I realise that this statement is an understatement.

Father Gruber has a legal recourse, which he is taking to try and get his life back.  Sadly, Father MacRae has no recourse.

You could see from these cases where Saint Theresa would come to the conclusion that Our Lord has fewer friends than He might, with the way that He treats them.  But, God is good, and He loves us all, though His methods sure seem strange.

May Father's Gruber and MacRae be exonerated, and returned to service.  We cannot afford to lose priests who love serving the Lord, because of the political correctness of some of our leaders.

I am amazed at how easily the truth can be suppressed, even by those who believe that it shall set us free.

God Bless You Father Mark, and Father Gordon.  May those who are working for your release from your situations be successful.


Charis Aquilla said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful post in support of my good friend and spiritual father. It is a shame that the Dallas Charter, which has been used to quickly bring pedophile priests to justice, is also being used to deprive good, persecuted priests of due process. The American legal system, based as it is (at the moment anyway) on Judeo-Christian principles, is actually more just in the case of the defamation of priests than is the current practice of the Catholic Church in our country. As you have pointed out, Father Mark is not the only victim of this new kind of clerical abuse. A great reform of the higher clergy needs to take place, and I hope that Father's case and his intense suffering over this past year and for however long this will take, will be instrumental in this very reform.

Michael Brandon said...


If you have more information that I can post, please provide it to me.

There is no doubt that people should be protected from abusive priests and others who would do them harm.

It certainly appears to me that it is safer for children in the Roman Catholic Church than it is for priests.

God Bless You and Father Mark

Michael Brandon

Unknown said...

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 in 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.

Michael Brandon said...

Thank you both for your comments. In reading about your support of Father Gruber, some thoughts and questions came to my mind, and I wrote about them here.

God Bless You

Michael Brandon

michael d yates said...

I wrote about Saint Vincent College, the regime of former president James Towey, and the deplorable treatment of Father Mark

I attended the college, and what has happened to Father Mark makes me ashamed that I did. I am no longer a Catholic or even a believer, but this hasn't mattered to Father Mark, who sent me a most kind letter thanking me for supporting him. I think we should all thank him because his kindness and fortitude in the face of a most awful persecution is an inspiration to everyone. And his fight to clear his name is a fight for all of us, because when he wins vindication, we all win a victory too, as those who would do what the abbot and others have done might then think twice.

michael yates, c'67 SVC

Michael Brandon said...


I have been traveling for over a month and missed this pertinent comment.
Can I republish your article with attribution here?

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.