- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

A homosexual Dallas priest who joined a pornographic Internet clergy chat room to discuss sexual liaisons will not serve another Catholic church, says the bishop who protected the priest for two years.
The Rev. Clifford Garner, 36, who quit this week as assistant pastor of a 5,000-member east Dallas Catholic church because of criticism over chat-room remarks that he was sexually attracted to Hispanic men and youths, has been sent to an undisclosed location for rehabilitation and barred indefinitely from functioning as a priest, Bishop Joseph Galante said in an interview.
"There are no plans to reassign him. There were plans for him to take extended time for reflection and discernment," Bishop Galante said of the priest, who was a subject of complaints in January 2000 for expressing homosexual desires toward young Hispanic men.
"Although I am no 'chicken hawk,' there are some really cute guys around the country," Father Garner said in a November 1999 message to the chat room called St. Sebastian's Angels.
"I do have a very special place in my heart for those Latin blooded ones," the priest professed after a national Catholic youth retreat where he said he "got along wonderfully" with a Hispanic youth minister from Dallas who was his roommate.
Bishop Galante, spokesman for the U.S. Catholic bishops at their recent Dallas conference, which developed a national policy regarding sexually abusive priests, defended his refusal to have Father Garner defrocked after first learning he might lust after Hispanic men and youths in his own congregation.
In January 2000, an orthodox group, Roman Catholic Faithful of Petersburg, Ill., sent Bishop Galante and more than a dozen other U.S. bishops transcripts of sexually oriented messages from the chat room joined by Father Garner and about 60 other Catholic priests as well as nude pictures they posted on the site.
The chat room's organizer, the Rev. John E. Harris of Oquossoc, Maine, was reassigned, but no priests were removed. Bishop Galante said he had ordered Father Garner to stop participating in the chat room. Father Garner was counseled for sexual disorder and remained at St. Pius X Catholic Church.
"From all the records, there was no evidence that he had ever had sexual relations," Bishop Galante said of Father Garner, who quit this week after stories in The Washington Times generated local criticism about his participation in the chat room.
"I have no question as to the scurrilousness of this Web site," the bishop said. "It was totally out of order. It was totally out of place. If he was acting out, we would remove him immediately."
Bishop Galante said he did not remember Father Garner's request in the chat room for help while using the pulpit to challenge the church's teaching that homosexual activity was a sin.
"I preached about how the Genesis story about Lot and Sodom is not about sexual sins or sexual issues [at least not in the foreground]," Father Garner said in December 1999. "But the story is about issues of inhospitality. In fact, that was the context of Jesus' use in the gospel issues of hospitality. Well, this lady went ballistic, she told me that I was a priest in error and wrong to be teaching that this scripture was not about 'those homosexuals.' How do you handle these people?"
"That's garbage," Bishop Galante said of Father Garner's interpretation of Scripture. "If I had known he was giving unauthorized teachings, he would not have been allowed to preach."


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