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RELIGION / Exploring issues, answers and beliefs

At Odds With Church Over Sexuality

A gay priest who gave up Notre Dame drama professor post after coming out has written a play that is a manifesto for tolerance.

November 04, 2000|MARY ROURKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last year, Father David Garrick gave up a secure life as a member of the Holy Cross Fathers and his position as a drama professor on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame. He was convinced that it was the only way he could be open about his homosexuality and his belief that being gay is normal.

While the Roman Catholic Church refers to homosexual acts as "intrinsically disordered," Garrick, 56, believes marriage and fidelity ought to be encouraged for gays and lesbians, just as they are for straight couples.

No longer a Holy Cross father but still a priest, Garrick is letting his views be known in a play he wrote and directed under the pen name of David Ste. Croix. "A Difficult Patient" is being performed in North Hollywood through Nov. 22.

The play tells the story of Jimmy, a gay activist, and Lysses, who loves him but is grappling with his own homosexuality. One therapist tries to turn Lysses straight, but another later helps him accept himself. Set in the early 1970s, the lovers' drama weaves through events that led to the American Psychiatric Assn.'s decision to remove homosexuality from its official list of diseases in 1973.

"It's the gay 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' " said Garrick, who sees the piece as a manifesto defending gay love and marriage as normal, based on recent psychological research. "Church leaders need to revisit the gay issue from the point of view of psychology."

Religion is not mentioned in his play, except for a reference to the Book of Job. But Garrick's plot goes against church teaching in sanctioning vows of mutual commitment for gay lovers.

"The Catholic Church needs to instruct gay and lesbian couples, just as it does straight couples who plan to marry," he said.

Fair in complexion, with a fringe of silvery hair that adds to an ethereal appearance, Garrick is still making peace with his departure from Notre Dame and his subsequent resignation from his religious order in June 1999.

Those who knew him in Indiana are still wondering whether Garrick is a saintly prophet or the misguided victim of his own strong will. His onetime colleagues and fellow priests seem to agree that there are no villains or heroes in his personal story. Garrick said all did what they believed to be right.

Notre Dame Barred Group in 1995

The trouble started in 1995, when the Notre Dame administration told a gay and lesbian group for which he served as chaplain that it could no longer meet on campus. "The group seemed to be tolerating too loose an approach toward church teaching on homosexuality, which excludes homosexual sex," said university spokesman Michael Garvey.

Garrick saw the banishment as an injustice, and a year later he came out publicly as a celibate gay priest in an open letter published in the school newspaper. His superiors in his religious order had known about his sexual orientation, but he had not spoken about it openly.

After his public announcement, invitations to say Mass and hear confessions on campus trickled to a stop. Then Garrick's name plate was removed from the confessional of the university chapel. Garrick said he felt a growing sense of hostility, and he felt he had to leave. Notre Dame spokesman Garvey said: "At the time he resigned from the university, Father Garrick said he felt he was being shut out."

Garrick's religious superiors wanted to reassign him to one of their parish churches, but Garrick asked to spend some time in Los Angeles. With the blessing of the Holy Cross Fathers, he found work here as an AIDS hospice chaplain.

After 10 months, his superiors told him he needed to take a position at a church operated by members of his order, but there are none in Los Angeles. "Father Garrick chose Los Angeles over the parish work we invited him to do," said Father William Dorwart, his superior in Indiana.

Garrick, who earned a doctorate in theater arts in 1993 from New York University, said the situation was complicated by his being told to be quiet about his homosexuality in his new assignment. "They told me I could not talk about being a homosexual or be involved in working with homosexuals."

While recent research shows that many Catholic priests in the United States are gay, hardly any are as open about it as Garrick.

Dorwart admitted that "I can understand why David Garrick would say at some level he was being asked to step back into the closet. Our request was that the situation not be made political, or be polarized. Maybe he felt by that we meant go back. But once you're out of the closet you don't go back."

Garrick's colleague and friend, Father Nicholas Ayo, said of Garrick's departure from Indiana, "neither the university nor the order gets a gold star."

On issues of sexuality, "the university and the order want to be on the train, but we are more comfortable as the caboose, not the engine. David wants to be the engine," he said.

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