Dallas Resources – July 2002
By Susan Hogan/Albach
The Rev. Clifford Garner, the church's assistant pastor, received two "threats against his life" last week that had been reported to the police, Monsignor Lawrence Pichard said at the end of a morning service.
"He will no longer be here at St. Pius again," said Monsignor Pichard, the church's pastor. The announcement was made at weekend services, which average 4,600 people.
Some members of the East Dallas church were upset by the threats.
"It's pretty sad when somebody threatens a priest," said church member Elida Rodriguez, 34, of Mesquite. "It's disturbing that he has to fear for his life."
Father Garner, 36, couldn't be reached Sunday for comment. Church officials said that he was staying at an undisclosed location for his own safety. They would not comment on his future.
"He's taking time off," Monsignor Pichard said after the service. He declined to provide details about the threats.
The Dallas Police Department said Sunday that it had one complaint on file from Father Garner in the last seven days. The report, filed Thursday, said the priest received a message from an unknown caller threatening to beat him up.
Father Garner apologized during services on June 22 and 23 for posting a sexually suggestive message about Hispanic men on an Internet site for gay priests more than two years ago.
"I do have a very special place in my heart for those Latin blooded ones," the message said.
Some church members said they pressured Father Garner about whether he was gay at a special congregation meeting June 23. They said the priest declined to comment.
The Dallas Diocese was under pressure last week to remove the priest by church members upset that Father Garner had used the Web site.
Some church members said they did not want a gay priest.
Others said his sexual orientation wasn't the issue. They said he should go because of the nature of the message he wrote.
"That is not the kind of behavior you expect from a priest," said David Weber, 41, of Dallas. "He made his bed, now he has to deal with the consequences."
Father Garner, a Texas native, converted to Catholicism at age 18.
He was a chaplain in the U.S. Marine Corps before being ordained a priest by Dallas Bishop Charles V. Grahmann in 1999.
Bishop Grahmann couldn't be reached for comment Sunday.
Dallas Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Galante said recently that when he became aware of Father Garner's activity on the Web site, he met with the priest and told him never to use the site again. The priest also received counseling.
"I made a terrible mistake and dealt with it," Father Garner said recently. "It's been resolved."
Terri Niswander, a member of the church for more than 30 years, said she had forgiven the priest and was sorry to lose him.
"I'm sorry that he's gone," she asked. "My prayers are definitely with him."
[Staff writer Matt Stiles contributed to this story.]
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