- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2002

A Dallas priest who professed his attraction for Hispanic men on an online homosexual pornographic chat room has left his parish after receiving what church officials called "threats against his life."
The Rev. Clifford Garner, 36, "will not be coming back," Monsignor Lawrence Pichard, pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church announced at Masses last weekend, after the priest's comments on the Web site were reported by The Washington Times.
"He will no longer be here at St. Pius again," Monsignor Pichard told parishioners, the Dallas Morning News reported yesterday.
The monsignor said Father Garner had reported to the police two "threats against his life."
However, the Dallas Police Department said he reported Thursday just one anonymous telephone call from a man who threatened "to beat him up."
At around 9 p.m. EDT, the St. Pius X Web site (www.spxdallas.org) was cleansed of references to Father Garner as part of the parish.
The site had earlier listed him among the parish priests, had provided a biography and had linked his e-mail address. However, an interactive question-and-answer section called "Ask an Expert by Fr. Cliff Garner" was still on the site last night.
The threat against Father Garner came after newspaper reports of the priest's homosexual advocacy on the St. Sebastian's Angels Web site, which included pictures of nude men.
In messages he posted to the site, Father Garner declared his desire for Hispanic men, including a youth pastor from Dallas with whom he shared a room at a Catholic retreat.
The weekend before last, accompanied by Dallas Bishop Joseph Galante, Father Garner apologized to his parishioners for "inappropriate" remarks.
"I made a terrible mistake and dealt with it," he said at weekend Masses on June 22 and 23. "It's been resolved."
He had told other homosexual priests in the chat room: "I must say that although I am no 'chicken hawk,' there are some really cute guys around the country. I did, however, share a room with one of our youth ministers here in Dallas and is he cute! He's no Ricky Martin but he is Hispanic and we got along wonderfully! It was almost like we were meant to be together. I do have a very special place in my heart for those Latin blooded ones!"
An orthodox group, Roman Catholic Faithful of Petersburg, Ill., formally complained two years ago to bishops throughout the country about the role of about 60 homosexual priests on the St. Sebastian's Web site.
Bishop Galante and Mary Edlund, the diocese's chancellor, met with Father Garner in January 2000 and expressed support, while instructing him to stop participation in the chat room, he reported at the time.
Father Garner said he would find a way to keep communicating with chat room members.
He explained in a message to the members that the bishop "said that the heart of the problem was not that I was homosexual (he doesn't care for the word gay) or that if a priest was heterosexual both are only states of being human, the problem is that priests do not have outlets to discuss matters of intimacy and how they integrate this into their lives as priests, so that they can live their celibacy in a healthy way hetero or homosexual."
Father Garner, Monsignor Pichard, Bishop Galante and Ms. Edlund refused to respond to repeated inquiries by The Times. It is unclear whether the priest will be reassigned to another church or leave the priesthood altogether.
Both John Farrell, St. Pius' chief financial officer, and Neely Kerr, church office manager, said last night that Father Garner was at an undisclosed location and that no one from the church would comment.
"You'll have to get all your information from the diocese," Mr. Farrell said. "Only through the diocese, that's all I know," Mr. Kerr said.
Bronson Havard, diocese spokesman, did not return calls. At home, his daughter said, "He's on vacation. You'll have to call the diocese and leave a message."
A longtime St. Pius parishioner last night described the situation there as chaotic.
"In the middle of this big riot at Pius, and during the week before Cliff left, Pichard had scheduled a vacation for himself," the parishioner said, asking for anonymity to prevent retaliation from diocesan officials.
The Rev. Mar Ortiz, who had been selected to replace Father Garner, had run into an unexplained problem with his background check and was "going to the Philippines on vacation to see his family, and no one would be there, but they were leaving a dying priest at the rectory," the parishioner said. "What kind of pastor would do that?"
The remaining priest, the Rev. Denis O'Brien, has prostate cancer, a physician who attends the church said.
Some Catholics in Dallas said they doubted Monsignor Pichard's explanation about the threats against Father Garner.
"My instincts tell me they are making up these stories about the death threats," said one prominent lay leader who asked not to be named.
"Since he reported to the police a call from someone who said he was going to beat up Garner, surely he would report to the police far more serious threats. If not, then my guess is someone concocted this story to put Garner in the best possible light and his critics in the worst possible light."
Stephen G. Brady, president of Roman Catholic Faithful, said the diocese refused to discuss the facts of the case and resorted to "innuendo, name-calling and diversion" against his group.
"They're going to make a hero out of Father Cliff and make us the villain, I have no doubt," Mr. Brady said. "We don't mind. Christ said, 'If you follow me, be prepared to carry my cross.'"


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