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Embattled Priest Takes Leave of Absence

December 15, 1986

WOODBRIDGE, N.J. (AP) _ A priest who attracted national attention for telling grammar school children that Santa Claus is dead has taken a leave of absence because of the furor, his pastor says.

The Rev. Romano Ferraro ″has been victimized by our unconscionable press,″ said the Rev. Francis J. Sergel, pastor of St. John Vianney Roman Catholic Church, where Ferraro delivered the controversial sermon. He did not elaborate.

Parishioners who last week complained publicly about Ferraro telling their children that Santa Claus does not exist also directed their anger Sunday at the media, which they accused of blowing the matter out of proportion.

″The press is being worse than the father was,″ said one parent who would not give his name.

The Roman Catholic priest told children during a Mass on Dec. 6, the Feast of St. Nicholas, that just as the day’s namesake - a 4th century bishop - is dead, so is Santa Claus.

Parents said some youngsters emerged from the church with tears in their eyes.

A statement issued by the Diocese of Metuchen apologized to parents for ″any lack of sensitivity ... that may have caused disappointment or disillusionment″ among the children.

In addition, a lawyer who represents the church, Paul Fenmore, said Ferraro had been ″horribly misquoted″ by complaining parents.

On Sunday, Sergel told parishioners that Ferraro had been ″granted a temporary leave of absence for reasons that are both personal and parochial.″

Sergel also apologized for any unhappiness Ferraro’s remarks may have caused.

Fellow clergymen and parishioners said last week that Ferraro had probably been misunderstood and was trying to get the children to focus on the spirituality, rather than the commercialism of Christmas.

Ferraro has refused to discuss with the media what he told the children about Santa Claus.

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