. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . IT'S NOT OVER UNTIL FATHER G COMES HOME TO ST LUCY'S...
Newark Star Ledger - June 4, 2009
by Columnist Bob Braun
Popular Newark priest's retirement housing sparks protests, death threats, political intervention
-- Death threats to a priest? A public feud between a powerful
politician and the preeminent leader of the state's Catholic hierarchy?
Protest marches on a Gothic cathedral?
"This is the sort of thing that might have happened in the Middle
Ages," says Jim Goodness, the spokesman for Newark Archbishop John J.
(Amanda Brown/The Star-Ledger) A
2005 file photo of Msgr. Joseph J. Granato greeting parishioners
following a Mass to celebrate Granato's 50 years as a priest at St.
Lucy's Church in Newark.
happening here in Newark in the 21st Century -- the latest in the saga
of efforts by the parishioners of St. Lucy's in the city's old Italian
First Ward to protect the church's traditions and the wish of its
pastor for 54 years, Msgr. Joseph Granato, to live out his life in its
rectory rather than a retirement home.
At the center -- for now, at least -- is one of New Jersey's
savviest politicians, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, who
likes to be known as "Joe D."
DiVincenzo, an ambitious man with sights on higher office, rarely
takes on a fight he can't win, but he has not yet taken on an
archbishop. Indeed, Goodness says no politician has tried to take on
"We have not seen this before," he says.
Well, in fact, some legislators and the archbishop got into a scrap
years ago over whether Catholic politicians who favor legalized
abortion should receive Communion. It prompted one Irish Catholic
politician from Hudson County -- former state Sen. Bernard Kenny of
Hoboken -- to become an Episcopalian.
But Goodness is right that politicians have not tried to get
involved in church administrative affairs since, well maybe, the Middle
Unsurprisingly, DiVincenzo doesn't see it that way. He sees it as a
promise made, not just to Granato, but to the parishioners of St.
Lucy's who include some of the most prominent and powerful
Italian-American families, not just in Newark, but throughout Essex
County and the state. His wife's family is from the parish, he says.
"I don't care who becomes the next pastor of St. Lucy's," says
DiVincenzo. "That is completely up to the archbishop. But I care about
the monsignor and the families who have supported him and the parish
(Amanda Brown/The Star-Ledger) Msgr. Joseph J. Granato and Newark Archbishop John J. Myers at a 2005 Mass in Newark.
The county executive says the archbishop promised Granato, 80, that
the pastor -- one of only three in the century-old history of a parish
that still offers some Masses in Latin -- could stay at St. Lucy's
after he retires this month. The promise ended planned protests by
"Then the archbishop changed his mind," says DiVincenzo. "That's not right."
Goodness doesn't deny Granato was told he could stay in the rectory
after he retired. But, he insists, it wasn't a done deal and there was
a catch -- and the catch has to do with the death threat. The catch was
the new pastor had to agree to let Granato stay.
Goodness says a priest was chosen to replace Granato -- he won't
reveal his name -- and was willing to allow the old pastor to stay. But
the priest visited the parish and was threatened by parishioners,
Goodness says. Threats the priest took to be death threats.
"He was scared," says Goodness, who says he is protecting the priest
by not identifying him. "He read a leaflet that warned there would be
'consequences' if he took over the parish and tried to make any
Goodness says the priest withdrew from consideration as Granato's replacement and Myers changed his mind.
"There were conversations in which the archbishop did say he was
willing to let Granato stay in the rectory," says Goodness. "That is
not the usual practice. You can imagine the difficulties involved --
parishioners running to the old pastor if the new pastor does something
they don't like."
But, once the threat was made, Goodness says, the deal was off.
Granato must go to a retirement home in Caldwell--or stay in a private
home he has kept in Newark, not far from the church.
DiVincenzo says he is skeptical about the death threat but, insists,
even if one were made, that shouldn't have been a deal-breaker.
"What does that have to do with Monsignor Granato? He was promised
he could stay in the rectory. That kept the parishioners from public
DiVincenzo says he has spoken to the archbishop and urged him to
keep the promise to Granato but, the county executive says, "he wasn't
The county executive says parishioners still plan to march on Sacred
Heart Cathedral-Basilica, the seat of the archdiocese, maybe as early
as this Sunday.
"I am hoping we can work this out," says DiVincenzo, who is up for re-election next year. "The parishioners are very upset."