Bishop Cancels Mendham Visit Amid Protest
Serratelli Fearful Planned Demonstration during Mass

By Matt Manochio
Daily Record
February 23, 2006

MENDHAM -- Bishop Arthur Serratelli canceled a visit to St. Joseph's Church that he had scheduled for Sunday because a group had planned to protest during Mass, Diocese of Paterson officials said on Wednesday.

Voice of the Faithful, a group of Catholics who discuss possible changes in the church, had planned to hold a demonstration at St. Joseph's if the bishop asked parishioners for money to help rebuild the church's finances during his homily.

Maureen Mahoney, a coordinator with Voice of the Faithful, said the idea initially was to stand up and quietly walk out had the bishop sought contributions. She said some members objected to that idea, and the plan was changed to holding a peaceful demonstration outside.

There were more objections, and Mahoney said the idea for any type of protest was scrapped last week.

"It was canceled before the bishop wrote the letter canceling his visit," Mahoney said on Wednesday.

Diocese spokeswoman Marianna Thompson said the bishop wrote a letter to St. Joseph's congregants explaining his reasons for canceling his 10:30 a.m. appearance. A copy of the letter was posted on the church bulletin board.

"He wrote to them saying that he was looking forward to sharing the Eucharist with them, but he received word that there would be people in attendance on that scheduled day who wished to protest something to forward their agenda of what they felt the church should do,"Thompson said.

"The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is far too sacred to be disrupted by a few people who want to forward their own agenda. He did not want the faithful and devoted people of St. Joseph's parish in Mendham to endure that."

Mahoney said her group would not have disrupted the Mass.

"We would never have done anything to disrupt the Eucharist," Mahoney said.

"There's not one person in this group that would ever do such a thing. We know our faith, we understand liturgy. There's no way we would ever do anything disrespectful to the Eucharist."

At least one St. Joseph's parishioner was upset by the visit's cancellation, and she blamed the short-lived protest plan.

In a letter to the Daily Record, Suzanne Merkt, wife of Assemblyman Richard A. Merkt, R-Mendham Township, said her daughter had been looking forward to celebrating Mass with the bishop.

"Now she is unable to see him visit her own church,"Merkt said.

"The planned protest reveals a lack of respect and consideration for the beliefs of others. The protesters obviously have their reasons for demonstrating, but doing so at a church during a religious service is self-serving, inappropriate and unconscionable."

The Rev. Monsignor Joseph Anginoli, pastor of St. Joseph's, declined to comment and referred all comments to the diocese.

Maureen Mahoney's husband, Peter, who is a member of Voice of the Faithful and a St. Joseph's parishioner, said the three avenues that the group seeks to discuss with the bishop are to support victims of clergy abuse, support priests of integrity and work for reform within the church by seeking to reinstitute the mandates of Vatican II.

He said attempts to discuss these platforms with the bishop so far have been unsuccessful.

"The bishop is incommunicative," Peter Mahoney said. "Letters that are sent to him get returned unopened. Some that do get responded to get responded to in a formed response. There's an apparent lack of respect for the faithful and their role in a post-Vatican II parish."

Thompson declined to comment on the communication issues alleged by the group.

"I really don't have anything to say about that," she said.

"Their actions, I think, speak for themselves. The bishop was unwilling to take a chance on any type of protest during the most sacred liturgy of our faith."

Matt Manochio can be reached at (973) 989-0652 or


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