Former Graterford prison chaplain sues over sex-abuse scandal

Posted: January 16, 2013

A former Catholic chaplain who worked at Graterford Prison says state officials defamed him, wrongfully fired him, and tried to block his unemployment benefits after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia suspended him in 2011 amid a review of misconduct by priests.

The Rev. Robert Povish, 47, of Boyertown, was ultimately removed last year from active ministry by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput for what the prelate called violations of "boundary issues" with children.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, Povish accuses prison officials of ignoring his spotless record there over a decade and savaging his reputation by portraying him as a child-sex abuser, which he says he is not.

"To this day, Rev. Povish has never been accused of sexual misconduct. He was not named in any grand jury report, nor have charges ever been filed against him, nor will there ever be," said the lawsuit, filed by North Wales lawyer Brian K. Wiley. "What Rev. Povish no longer has is his reputation. Defendants took that away from him. Then, they took away his job."

The complaint reflects the ripples that continue from the archdiocese's mass suspension two years ago, the largest of its kind since the clergy sex-abuse scandal unfolded in the United States.

Povish was one of two dozen priests suspended while church officials reviewed allegations against them.

Chaput has announced decisions in two-thirds of those cases. Seven priests were permanently removed from ministry and eight others reinstated. One died and one, the Rev. Andrew McCormick, is awaiting trial on child-sex-assault charges.

Povish, who was ordained in 1990 and began working at Graterford in 2002, has never spoken publicly about the allegations that led to his removal from active ministry. His lawsuit does not detail them, and neither he nor his lawyer could be reached Monday for comment.

Church officials have declined to release details on specific accusations, but say "boundary issues" can include inappropriate talk or contact, sharing alcohol or pornography with minors, or other conduct that might be construed as "grooming" a possible victim.

Povish claims prison officials took those allegations and "turned a blind eye to the truth," unfairly lumping him "in with a scandal with which he was not a part."

His 30-page complaint asserts that Graterford superintendent Michael Wenerowicz, prison personnel officer Michael Romascavage, and the Department of Corrections violated his civil rights and discriminated against him as a Catholic.

Both prison officials knew he had not been accused of sexual abuse, he claims, but suspended him anyway and fought his attempts to collect unemployment benefits.

His suit cites letters from Romascavage that say he was placed on leave for "suspicion of sexual misconduct" and that "public perception could be greatly affected" if Povish were able to collect benefits. When the prison administrators lost an appeal to block his benefits, they fired him, he claims.

Povish does not outline his losses, but wants a jury trial to award him compensatory damages for the lost income as well as punitive damages for "malicious and recklessly indifferent actions."

Prison spokeswoman Wendy Shaylor said the department would not comment on pending litigation or personnel matters.


Contact John P. Martin at 215-925-2649 or jmartin@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JPMartinInky.

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