Priest Who Said Santa Is Dead Takes Leave of Absence

Associated Press
December 15, 1986

Woodbridge, N.J. - A Roman Catholic priest who told schoolchildren that Santa Claus is dead has taken a temporary leave of absence, and a church spokesman said Monday that officials hope the controversy will go away.

The Rev. Romano Ferraro's leave of absence was disclosed Sunday during a Mass by the Rev. Francis Sergel, pastor of St. John Vianney's Church.

Sergel also repeated an apology to parishoners and took responsibility for Ferraro's comments.

On Monday, officials at the Diocese of Metuchen declined to answer questions about the matter. "We're not making any comment, and hoping this whole thing dies down," said William Carr, a diocesan spokesman.

The controversy began Dec. 6 when Ferraro told first- through sixth-graders that neither Santa Claus nor Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer existed.

Some parents criticized the priest for killing off Santa, but other parishioners and fellow clergymen said that Ferraro probably had been misunderstood and was trying to get the children to focus on the spirituality, rather than the commercialism, of Christmas.

On Sunday, Sergel told parishioners that Ferraro had been "granted a temporary leave of absence for reasons that are both personal and parochial." He declined to elaborate but said that Ferraro had been "victimized by our unconscionable press." Ferraro has said nothing publicly about the incident.

In southern New Jersey, meanwhile, two priests in Burlington County said they have bought sweatshirts reading, "I believe in Santa Claus" to assure parishioners that there won't be any talk of St. Nick's demise in their church.

"We just wanted to show parents that we wouldn't say anything against Santa Claus in our Mass," said the Rev. Gregory Vaughn, administrator of the church, who along with the Rev. Joseph Connolly wore the shirts to Mass on Sunday at St. Charles Borromeo Church.

Vaughn said that he takes the matter of Santa Claus' existence very seriously.

"My first-grade teacher told me there was no Santa Claus,"said Vaughn. "I told my 4-year-old brother about it. And I remember my parents getting very upset. And I was upset, too."


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