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Notre Dame priest resigns over policy on gays


Special Report Writer

Holy Cross Fr. David Garrick said his resignation last month from the University of Notre Dame was done as a “heartfelt protest” of the institution’s refusal to grant homosexuals explicit legal protection from discrimination.

Garrick, 53, a professor of communications and theater and a playwright, has taught six years at the South Bend, Ind., school. He told NCR that he resigned after learning that he had been “wrongly and secretly dismissed” from his duties as a minister in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the main church on campus, where previously he had said Mass, preached and heard confessions. He claimed that the suspension is the result of his having come out as a gay celibate priest in the campus newspaper -- The Observer -- on April 4, 1996.

The priest’s resignation letter, published in mid-March in The Observer, sparked demonstrations on campus. On March 24, some 300 faculty and students gathered for a two-hour “speak-out” in support of Garrick. Attending students told NCR that the rally was an unusual occurrence on what several described as a “non-activist” campus.

Attendees called on the administration to adopt a nondiscrimination clause in matters of sexual orientation, to recognize a student-run group -- Gays and Lesbians of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College (GLND/SMC) -- and to end alleged discrimination against gays and lesbians.

A week later the Observer printed the names of 1,300 students and staff who signed a letter seeking equal rights for gays and lesbians and support for Fr. Garrick. Students and professors planned a five-hour teach-in for April 2 on homosexuality and equal rights.

Some students and teachers said they intended to participate in a National Day of Silence from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 8 to symbolize the silencing of gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Students will distribute cards explaining their silence. Some 120 colleges and universities will take part.

Garrick told NCR that he was amazed by the support shown him by students, colleagues and fellow priests. He said that his earlier “coming out” letter was intended to manifest solidarity with other gays and lesbians on campus -- for whom “coming out is often a needed step toward self-acceptance.”

But Garrick said he did not find acceptance for his own stance from some of those in the highest echelons of the university nor from the provincial of the Holy Cross Community at the time of his coming out.

Garrick said that the basilica was his main arena for priestly ministry. “That ministry has now been barren for a year and a half,” he said. Last November, he said, he learned from a member of the basilica staff that he had not been invited to continue his ministry because an order had been sent suspending Garrick from duties at the church.

The priest said he learned about the order when he inquired why his name plaque had been removed from a confessional at the church.

According to Garrick, the informant told him that the suspension order came from Holy Cross Fr. Richard Warner, who directs campus ministry and is also special counselor to Notre Dame’s president, Holy Cross Fr. Edward Malloy.

Garrick said the reason he was given for the suspension was because “my sermons were poor, which was news to me, and that they were considered too long and eccentric.”

Garrick has refused to reveal his source to the press but told NCR that he disclosed it to Warner during a meeting in January and that “Father Warner denied that he’d given the order. He acknowledged that he had difficulty remembering, but he thought someone might have given it.”

Garrick said he asked Warner for evidence of letters or complaints against him but was shown none. “I was disappointed that he was not willing to look into the matter.” He said he told Warner that he was thinking of resigning.

Warner did not return NCR’s calls, but Garrick’s religious superior, Holy Cross Fr. John Jenkins told NCR that he and Garrick had discussed his decision to resign effective the end of the current academic year. “We have had several honest but mutually respectful disagreements about some of his concerns and claims,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins called Garrick “a valuable presence” at the university and said he and others had urged Garrick not to resign. “He is a dedicated priest,” who “has always had and continues to have full faculties to preside at the Eucharist and hear confessions or perform any other priestly ministry wherever he is invited,” Jenkins said.

In an April 1 release, Jenkins said neither he nor Warner had written a letter removing Garrick from presiding at Mass or hearing confessions in the basilica. “Further,” he wrote, “no order ever was given by Father Warner or me or anyone else removing Father Garrick from liturgical duties at the basilica or elsewhere.”

The pity is, Garrick said, he will never again be invited to minister at the basilica. “All this because I’ve gotten very close to the openly gay students on campus,” he said. “I still have a hard time believing that they didn’t view me as a resource rather than as an opponent,” he said.

Garrick said that his resignation would have been unnecessary had the university’s nondiscrimination clause listed “sexual orientation according to the teachings of the Catholic church” as a protected minority status. The priest maintained that his ministry was suspended because some Notre Dame officials and his religious superior were “strongly opposed to my coming out. It’s amazing how little being celibate meant; it was being openly gay that mattered,” he said.

University spokesman Dennis Moore acknowledged that Notre Dame is “not free of prejudice,” but he said he thinks there is probably more of it among students and faculty than among the administration. Gays and lesbians are “thoroughly integrated into our community,” he told NCR, noting that sexual orientation is not a factor in hiring, granting tenure or promoting faculty and staff.

There is “no magic solution” to the almost decade-long effort by the GLND/SMC organization to gain university recognition, he said. Many at the university, he said, had philosophical and theological objections to such a move. “The major stumbling block,” Moore said, “is that people want to reduce the recognition issue to a question of civil rights.” However, he said, the church does not view all sexual orientations as morally equal.

Graduate student Kristine Boeke said the university’s refusal to adopt a nondiscrimination clause for gays, lesbians and bisexuals and to recognize the GLND/SMC group is tied to fund-raising.

“They have to answer to a pretty conservative board of trustees and to many conservative alumni who provide much of the funding. The administration is afraid of portraying a too liberal view of Notre Dame across the country,” said Boeke, whose graduate work in American history focuses on civil rights.

Boeke said she disagreed with Patricia O’Hara, vice president for student affairs, who rejected the GLND/SMC’s letter of application for recognition, because “it didn’t match the teaching of the Catholic church,” according to Boeke. “I told her that the views and objectives of the College Democrats, College Republicans and Baptist Student Union -- all officially recognized -- didn’t match those of the church either.”

Boeke said she wished that Malloy, the president, would support a legally binding clause to eliminate discrimination against gays and lesbians at Notre Dame. After efforts last year by the Student Senate, Faculty Senate, Campus Life Council and several other campus groups to urge the administration to add such a clause, Malloy responded with the “Spirit of Inclusion” statement.

The document constitutes Notre Dame’s policy of naming homosexual students and faculty as welcome members of the university whose dignity will be upheld. But the document is “just paper words, it means nothing,” according to Lawrence Bradley, a former history professor who has been associated with Notre Dame since entering its law school in 1957.

Bradley said that Notre Dame’s faculty and students will have to become confrontational if they want full equality for gays and lesbians. “The general policy here is one of foot-dragging in the hope that people will get tired of the issue, its leaders will graduate and interest will wane.”

National Catholic Reporter, April 10, 1998