A Leave Is Granted to Priest in Santa Dispute

By Alfonso A. Narvaez
New York Times
December 16, 1986

A Roman Catholic priest who created a stir after he was quoted by some parents as having said Santa Claus was dead has been granted a temporary leave of absence, a spokesman for the Diocese of Metuchen said today.

Church officials contend that the priest, the Rev. Romano Ferraro of St. John Vianney Roman Catholic Church in Colonia, had been misquoted by parents and that the entire issue had been blown out of proportion by the news media.

The diocesan official, who asked that his name not be used, said that Father Ferraro had been granted a leave by the pastor of St. John's, the Rev. Francis J. Sergel, and that no further comments would be issued.

Father Sergel could not be reached for comment today. According to The Associated Press, he told parishioners during mass on Sunday that Father Ferraro "has been victimized by our unconscionable press," and that the leave of absence was granted "for reasons that are both personal and parochial."

Spiritual Importance Emphasized

The parents who were angered by Father Ferraro said his statements were made during a Dec. 6 celebration of a mass honoring St. Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop who cared for the poor and who, legend has it, secretly distributed presents to children. Church officials said that St. Nicholas's name had been altered by folklore and language over the centuries to Santa Claus.

Several days after the incident, Father Sergel issued an apology to parents. In his zeal to emphasize the spiritual importance of Christmas, the statement said, Father Ferraro "may have appeared to diminish the importance which many, especially children, attach to some cultural and secular aspects of this season."

Father Sergel added that he regretted "any lack of sensitivity which may have been the occasion for disappointment or disillusionment on the part of children or any awkwardness or difficulty which may have been caused for their parents."


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