Priest Relieved from Duty
He Broke Vow of Celibacy Years Ago

By John Murawski
News & Observer [Durham NC]
April 29, 2007

A priest at the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Durham was removed from duty last week after admitting to sexual encounters with five people a quarter-century ago, church officials announced Saturday.

The Rev. Stephen M. Garrity, 67, the pastor at Holy Cross, left North Carolina on Saturday for a weeklong evaluation at an undisclosed treatment center, said Kate Pipkin, a spokeswoman for Garrity's religious order, the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. The Maryland Province recalled Garrity.

Garrity admitted to church officials last week to having inappropriate sexual contact with five adults about 25 to 30 years ago, Pipkin said. At the the time, the adults were ages 18 to 23, about half Garrity's age. He was assigned in Baltimore and Philadelphia, she said.

Garrity is not suspected of pedophilia or criminal activity, Pipkin said. However, Garrity is in violation of his vows of celibacy.

"He used his position as a priest to violate his vows," Pipkin said.

Holy Cross Church officials learned from the Maryland Province about Garrity's past on Friday. The news was delivered to parishioners at a Saturday service and will be repeated at Mass today.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, the area's highest Catholic official, will attend Mass at Holy Cross church next Sunday.

Holy Cross is a small congregation established in the 1930s to minister to Durham's black Catholics. Its chapel is adjacent to N.C. Central University. Attempts to reach church members late Saturday were unsuccessful.

Garrity had served at Holy Cross since October 2001. He will be temporarily replaced by the Rev. Frank O'Connor, who was pastor at Holy Cross in the 1970s.

Garrity admitted to his sexual past after church officials received a complaint recently from one of the people with whom Garrity had sexual contact. The accuser's identity and sex are not being disclosed at the person's request, Pipkin said.

"Father Garrity admitted that this statement this person made was true that there was sexual misconduct," Pipkin said. "When he was asked about this claim this person made, he told us there were four other adults with whom he had sexual misconduct 25 years or more ago."

Garrity is not suspected of sexual assault, but church officials are investigating to determine whether Garrity is suitable for the ministry. Officials want to learn more about what happened a quarter-century ago, such as whether Garrity took advantage of people he was counseling, Pipkin said.

"Obviously the person [who complained] felt this wasn't 100 percent correct," Pipkin said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.