The Bishop of Belleville apparently had two very different visits to Catholic schools this week.
At Our Lady Queen of Peace in Belleville, he told fifth- and sixth-grade students that there is no Santa Claus and they should not celebrate Halloween, according to parents.
Edward K. Braxton’s office did not offer any comment to messages left on Wednesday afternoon. The Queen of Peace School office confirmed the bishop had been at the school on Tuesday but had no further comment.
“It was something that shouldn’t have been said,” one parent said on Wednesday of the bishop’s remarks to the fifth- and sixth-graders.
Boyd Ahlers, father of a fifth-grade boy and sixth-grade girl, said his son had believed in Santa.
“He doesn’t believe now,” Ahlers said. “I told (my son).... it was something that shouldn’t have been said. (Santa Claus) was something that was done for the child, the joy of the child to experience Christmas ... the spirit of Christmas, and eventually he would have learned.”
Parents and others took to Facebook on Wednesday to express their anger and frustration over Braxton’s remarks, with many saying he ruined the holiday and the spirit behind it for little children. Several contacted the News-Democrat to confirm their children reported he said Santa was not real, but declined to speak on the record.
Another parent of a sixth-grade boy remained angry on Wednesday afternoon that his parental responsibility had been usurped by Braxton.
“It’s my job to tell (my son), not his,” said Ray Schott, who also has a daughter in kindergarten. He and his wife hope to keep the news from their daughter.
“These kids are exposed to so much, so early. (Santa) is the last pure thing in a child’s life. It hurts. He had no right to do any of that,” Schott said.
His son had tears in his eyes after school Tuesday, Schott said, and told his family that his heart was broken.
“He isn’t real, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t in your heart. ... I’m not the only parent who had to explain early why he said what he said,” Schott said.
Ahlers said “all the kids are school are talking about it,” and even the very young children are sure to hear that the Bishop said there is no Santa.
Bishop Braxton was at Blessed Sacrement on Wednesday afternoon, the principal there said, and spoke to all the classes.
The students asked him questions — ranging from the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church to famous people he has met — and he asked what they were learning, Principal Claire Hatch said.
He also asked the kids what they were going to dress as for Halloween “and was laughing with them,” Hatch said.
Some parents at other Catholic schools say they will pull their child from school the day that Braxton is to appear.
Jared Viviano’s daughter attends St. Teresa in Belleville, and he portrays Santa at the annual Santa Parade in Belleville.
“We’re at the point that we don’t want our child to go to Mass the day he’s scheduled to speak (at St. Teresa),” Viviano said. “If he’s going to go and tell Santa isn’t real ... she’s not going to school that day.”
“My message from Santa Claus is totally different than the fictional storybook character,” he said, drawing upon Saint Nicholas of Turkey, who used his wealth to help others.
“My message to the kids is ... ‘You don’t have to be rich to be kind to other people. And (don’t) need to have a red suit on to be Santa Claus. All year long, have a good heart and help people.”
Parents at Queen of Peace said some of his remarks there were against Halloween, saying that Halloween should not be celebrated, in part because it mocks the dead.
Queen of Peace was to have a Halloween party on Wednesday afternoon. Hatch said Blessed Sacrament also had its parties on Wednesday afternoon.