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Parents Incensed Over Priest’s Message: Santa Claus Is Dead

December 10, 1986

WOODBRIDGE, N.J. (AP) _ Angry parents lashed out at a priest some said ″tried to kill Santa″ by telling youngsters the jolly old elf was dead, the North Pole didn’t exist and that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a fake.

The Rev. Romano Ferraro was ″horribly misquoted″ by the parents, said Paul Fenmore, a lawyer who represents the parish. But a statement issued by the Diocese of Metuchen apologized for ″any lack of sensitivity ... that may have caused disappointment or disillusionment″ among the children.

″He told the children that there was no such thing as a living Santa Claus who delivered gifts, that it was just a fairy tale,″ said Nick Andrusko, whose 7- and 10-year-old children were in the audience Saturday.

″I am appalled by the church going far beyond jurisdiction in regards to these young, impressionable children,″ said Andrusko, adding that until the sermon, his younger child believed in Santa Claus.

″He tried to kill Santa,″ said Joanne Apolonia, the mother of a first- grade girl and one of the parents who attended the Mass at St. John Vianney Roman Catholic Church. ″That’s how the kids took it.″

Saturday was the Feast of St. Nicholas, and Ferraro was discussing the spiritual nature of the Christmas holiday and how the folklore of the 4th century bishop who bestowed gifts on the poor has developed.

The Mass, part of a weekly religious instruction class designed for Catholic youngsters who attend public school, began ″very nicely,″ said Mrs. Apolonia. But then Ferraro said that just as St. Nicholas is dead, so is Santa Claus. The priest also told the scores of children that there is no North Pole and no Rudolph, she said.

During a later question-and-answer session, a fifth-grader asked whether the sermon meant parents were liars, Mrs. Apolonia said. Ferraro said, ″Yes,″ and told the youngsters, ″If you pretend to be sleeping (on Christmas Eve), you’ll catch your parents putting presents under the tree,″ she said.

Repeated attempts to reach Ferraro on Tuesday were unsuccessful; his secretary said he was unavailable. The parish has scheduled a meeting Monday to allow parents to discuss the matter with the priests.

Robert Madison, whose 7-year-old son attended the Mass, said Tuesday the boy seemed to have lost his enthusiasm for Santa Claus. Madison also said the incident may have damaged his credibility in his son’s eyes.

″We spend a lot of time trying to get our children to feel comfortable talking to us, and this guy is telling them, ’Your parents are lying to you,‴ he said.

The Rev. Robert Wister, associate dean at Seton Hall University’s theology school, said he hadn’t talked to Ferraro, but speculated that ″the priest’s main purpose was to focus the people on the centrality of Christ and draw them away from the commercialism of the holiday.″

The diocese statement, issued in the name of the Rev. Francis J. Sergel, pastor of St. John Vianney, said:

″It is unfortunate that Father Ferraro, in his zeal to explain the spiritual dimensions of our celebration, may have appeared to dismiss the importance which many, especially children, attach to some of the cultural and secular aspects of the season.″

Sergel said the legend of St. Nicholas distributing secret presents to children has been associated with Christmas Eve and the church doesn’t want to discourage that.

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