Skip to comments.In West Orange, a church divided
Posted on 12/28/2004 2:00:22 PM PST by CatherineSiena
At the church founded by the late Rev. Paul Wickens, Mass is always said in Latin. Women still cover their heads, and people receive the host in their mouths from a priest, never touching it with their own hands.
To say that St. Anthony of Padua, the church Wickens started nine years ago, is a haven for traditionalists is an understatement. And with his death this year, the search for just the right successor to the old founder has split the parishioners of this unusual West Orange church.
At a time when they would rather rally around a new priest, hundreds have boycotted the chapel for makeshift Masses at a Ramada Inn in East Hanover and a VFW Post and the Wellesley Inn in Fairfield.
The schism opened soon after the July death of Wickens, whose opposition to the historic 1960s reforms of the Second Vatican Council attracted hundreds of other "traditionalist" Catholics who like him felt the changes sullied ancient Catholic traditions and practices.
Modern Catholics would find some practices at St. Anthony's obscure. But when Wickens died, parishioners wanted a replacement who shared their views. They also wanted the chapel kept separate from the Newark Archdiocese, which accepted the 1960s reforms and suspended Wickens after a 1980s dispute stemming from his opposition to Catholic sex education.
Wickens remained a vocal critic of the archdiocese, calling Archbishop John J. Myers too liberal even though Myers is generally known nationwide as a staunch conservative.
The current boycotters say they have nothing personal against Wickens' replacement, the Rev. John Perricone, a conservative Catholic in his own right who in many ways seems a perfect fit for St. Anthony's.
Perricone, who started at St. Anthony's Dec. 1, is founder of the group "Christifidelis," which is dedicated to the Latin Mass.
Still, many longtime St. Anthony's parishioners reject him because he is an archdiocese priest, officially placed on loan to the chapel by the archdiocese.
At his last archdiocese post, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Orange, Perricone celebrated Mass in the modern way that traditionalists deplore, in English, facing the pews, and letting lay people touch the host.
"This Perricone, he's on both waters, he offers both Masses -- the Latin Mass and the modern Mass. And we do not accept that," said Elvira Valdez, who joined St. Anthony's in 1998 and has attended motel Masses.
"We only accept the ancient Mass, the old Mass, the Latin Mass. That's why Father Wickens stayed clear cut away from the archdiocese, because they would make him accept the modern Mass as equal to the old Mass."
Valdez and others say they fear that Perricone's hiring will lead to a full-scale takeover by the archdiocese, and that Mass in English may eventually be allowed there.
While reforms stemming from the Second Vatican Council are widely regarded as more inclusive of lay people, the members of St. Anthony's think they watered down the faith, and that translations from Latin are inadequate.
Since Perricone started, some longtime St. Anthony's churchgoers have traveled long distances to attend other traditionalist churches, such as St. Jude's in Eddystone, Pa.
Locally, the latest alternative Masses were at the VFW Post in Fairfield Saturday, for Christmas, and Sunday, drawing about 200.
A similar crowd attended a motel Mass in Fairfield earlier this month, where people knelt on the green patterned carpet of a kneeler-less conference room and received Communion from the Rev. John Fullerton, flown in for the occasion from Missouri.
Fullerton is with the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, which was founded by French Bishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was excommunicated after refusing to the accept the 1960s reforms.
Attendance at St. Anthony's, meanwhile, has been lighter than before Wickens died, and Perricone's supporters hope he can draw back those who left.
"If the diocese leaves us alone, there'll be no problems here," said Bill Brooks of Pompton Plains. "And the people will hopefully come back. Father Perricone is a good priest."
In his first sermon at St. Anthony's, the Rev. Perricone left no doubt about his beliefs, praising Wickens, whose archdiocese suspension lasted until he died.
"I am privileged," Perricone said, "to be able to bring forward the sacred traditions that Father Wickens has ... preserved."
Yet many who stopped attending St. Anthony's feel the church's three board members, who approached the archdiocese about Perricone, disregarded Wickens' wishes by bringing in an archdiocese priest.
A week ago, a group of them filed suit in Essex County Chancery Court, saying the statute under which the church was incorporated lets all members, not just trustees, pick the priest.
On both sides of the St. Anthony's dispute, parishioners say the church should honor Wickens' wishes. But they relate different versions of what he wanted.
Some, allowing that Wickens praised Perricone, said he also thought Perricone's archdiocese ties tainted him. Others say Wickens wanted the church turned over to the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X.
At a church meeting on Nov. 14, St. Anthony's board members -- Andrew Flock, Larry Small and Bob Ciuffreda, elected the day Wickens died in a previously scheduled election -- played a tape of Wickens praising Perricone shortly before his death.
But some who heard the tape at the meeting have complained it had only excerpts of the conversation. In what was played, Wickens did not address Perricone's archdiocese ties, a subject that surely was of interest to him, board critics said.
Asked about that, Al Wickens, the priest's brother, said that Paul Wickens never spoke about the archdiocese or the Society of Saint Pius X on June 24, the day he was taped.
"From that conversation, which was seven or eight minutes ... was a clear indication that if Father Perricone could possibly come, it would be a perfect fit for the chapel," said Al Wickens, who said he was present when the taping occurred.
While the arrangement with the archdiocese strikes many longtime St. Anthony's members as improper, to others it straddles the right side of a thin line. Archdiocese spokesman James Goodness said that while Perricone is considered "on loan" from the archdiocese, St. Anthony's is responsible for his salary, and the archdiocese does not receive a percentage of weekly collections.
Despite last-minute efforts to reconcile, the archdiocese never lifted its suspension of Wickens. It wanted him to sign a letter of obedience to Newark Archbishop Myers, which all pastors do when starting a new assignment, Goodness said. Wickens refused to do so, Goodness said.
Whether they attend a Latin Mass at St. Anthony's or elsewhere, the people drawn to it say they go for reasons other than merely hearing the words in Latin, though that is important.
"It's not just the Mass said in Latin. It's about the traditional faith. It requires the reverence that's there, the respect for the way the sacraments are done," said William Denk, who stopped attending St. Anthony's and now travels elsewhere for Mass.
"Many people have seen family members lose their faith. They've seen the breakdown in our culture and society. Now, when you've had Catholic bishops who have to debate whether a candidate who is pro-choice can remain Catholic, it shows exactly where (society) has gone to now."
Jeff Diamant covers religion. Reach him at email@example.com or (973) 392-1547.
The web page is
What is the Essex house? What town is it in? And why is everyone talking about it?
It's around the block from St.Anthony's. And it currently Hosts the 9:00 w/Fr.Murphy.
When that one was inviting you to Fairlfield, he as basiclly luring you on a drive....lol
Look, aside from the not staffing the Parish, etc....THe demand of a take it or leave it decision, does not inspire confidence.
Yes, that's place.
lol, that would have been a pretty good prank.
Hi RF, DM, GS et al ;-)
Well, normally it would be, except one would think that the SSPX itself, would have a somewhat vested interest in making available the times and places that the intersted faithful could attend....lol
I believe this is their web page,
Sundays Only at 9, or HDO, as well ?
Begin with the last post from November 22nd and work backwards in time:
Site Under Construction(Improper use of the tone mark, though, since it's neither a command, an actual exclamation or an astonishing sentence.)
Will Soon Reopen!