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Fight over ‘enormous task’ of collecting clothing donations causes friction at N.J. church

A Bergen County church ministry that collected nearly 300 tons of clothing and household goods each year for the needy in New Jersey and around the world may have been too good at its mission.

Supporters allege Catholic Church officials abruptly removed a clothing collection bin at St.

Andrew’s Parish in Westwood last month and stripped local control of the charity from parishioners without warning in a move that has sparked a fight within the parish.

“We’ve helped millions of people around the world and they shut it down in a day,” said Greg Ryan, the longtime head of the parish’s Human Concerns Ministry.

But church officials dispute Ryan’s account and say they did not abruptly strip local control of the ministry from parishioners. The proposed changes were discussed well in advance and volunteers were notified of the upcoming changes to the clothing donation ministry via the church bulletin, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese said.

Ryan said he arrived at the church recently to find the clothing donation bin in the parking lot, which often had to be emptied daily because of the program’s popularity in the area, had a sign saying it would no longer accept donations.

He was told by a priest that the popular clothing donation program — which distributes hundr of tons of clothing a year to local families and needy communities in Appalachia and Haiti — would be taken over by Catholic Charities, the social services arm of the Catholic Church.

“Our response to the U.S.

A. and world disaster relief makes us one of the leaders in our state for quick action: Katrina, Houston, Haiti and the Philippines, to name a few, all received our help in their time of need,” Ryan said.

“Our local Latino community will take the biggest hit of all — people from all over Bergen County would come once a month for assistance, whether for clothes or household goods.”

Archdiocese of Newark officials said the local charity bin was replaced with a new clothing collection bin for Catholic Charities, which will now administer the program.

The ministry at St. Andrew’s had grown too popular and was a strain on the Catholic parish, said Maria Margiotta, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark.

Catholic Charities will streamline the clothing donation program previously served by St. Andrew’s Church volunteers, which became overwhelming and lacked the proper resources to support the enormous task of sorting, packing and distributing thousands of pounds of clothing,” Margiotta said.

Catholic Charities already oversees about 100 donation bins at 72 churches throughout the archdiocese, which serves Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union counties, she said.

But some St.

Andrew’s parishioners worried the locally-run program they built to focus on needy families in the Pascack Valley would be lost in the larger Catholic Charities network.

Several dozen parishioners gathered in the church parking lot Thursday to protest the change.

The protest over the switch in administration of the clothing donation program has added to the tension at St. Andrew’s, which made headlines last year when parishioners learned their new pastor had previously been accused of sexual misconduct.

The Rev. Jim Weiner voluntarily stepped aside from his post last August after accusations that he sexually assaulted a seminarian in the 1980s resurfaced.

Weiner’s accuser said he reached a settlement with the church in 2004 over the alleged abuse, but the priest was permitted to continue his ministry.

Weiner is still listed as pastor of St.

Andrew’s Parish on its website, but parishioners said he has not preached since he voluntarily stepped aside.

The investigation is ongoing and Weiner remains on voluntary leave, said the Archdiocese of Newark spokeswoman.

Kelly Heyboer may be reached at kheyboer@njadvancemedia.com.

Follow her on Twitter @KellyHeyboer. Find her at KellyHeyboerReporter on Facebook.

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