Archdiocese Spokesman: Decision Made For Church's Long-Term Interests

ELIZABETH, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The timing couldn’t have been worse.

Two days before Christmas the ball dropped on parishioners at St. Mary of the Assumption in Elizabeth when they found out the head pastor and three priests were being forced out by Newark Archbishop John Myers.

“They and we deserve better,” said Barbara Burke, who was among the church members protesting outside the Archdiocesan Center in Newark on Wednesday.

1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg Reports

Many fear it is the first step to closing down Elizabeth’s oldest church, which opened its doors in 1884.

“I’m afraid that they’re going to close St. Mary’s. What’s a church without priests?” Marilyn Iorio asked 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg.

However, Newark Archdiocese spokesman Jim Goodness said there are no plans to close the church and the decision to remove the priests was made to ensure the parish is stronger moving forward.

“That this parish is in trouble and is going to close — that’s clearly wrong,” Goodness said. “Change is part of the life of the church.”

Loyal parishioners, however, feel like they have been punched in the gut.

“The way that they have handled this is totally inappropriate because these priests have served the community for many years,” one man said.

Some believe the archbishop is out of touch.

“I don’t think the archbishop cares about the community.  I think he cares about the almighty buck,” Iorio said.

Goodness insists, however, that is not the case and that priests come and go all the time.

“It had been decided a number of months ago that in best long-term interests of the parish that there needed to be a change,” he said.

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