A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered Friday in St. Margaret Catholic Church for the Rev. Joseph F. Moreno Jr., although it was unclear late Tuesday who would be officiating.
A diocesan bishop or auxiliary bishop typically officiates at a priest’s funeral Mass, but Moreno’s niece said Tuesday that it was the preference of the family to have one of Moreno’s 1986 seminary classmates, the Rev. Joseph A. Gullo or the Rev. Joseph D. Porpiglia, officiate.
A friend of the priest told The Buffalo News on Tuesday that the family was upset with how Catholic Diocese of Buffalo officials handled the pending transfer of Moreno from St. Lawrence Church and requested that Bishop Richard J. Malone not officiate at the Mass.
Moreno’s niece, Christina, declined to comment.
“He will have an honorable send-off. That’s really the most I can say,” she said.
A spokesman for the diocese said a decision on who will officiate at the Mass was still to be worked out.
Moreno, 54, was found dead Saturday inside the St. Lawrence Church rectory, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to authorities. Friends of the priest said the suicide followed word from diocesan officials that Moreno was being transferred from the parish where he had hoped to become the pastor. Instead, he was given a few days to pack up his belongings and find alternative living arrangements.
Suicide is considered a grave wrong by the Catholic Church, which at one time denied funeral rites and even burial in Catholic cemeteries to parishioners who took their own lives.
But the church has taken a more compassionate approach regarding suicide victims for the past several decades, declining to pass judgment on a person’s intentions, which are known only to God, said the Rev. Gregory M. Faulhaber, a diocesan priest and moral theologian at Christ the King Seminary.
“We are not making a judgment. We try to be as compassionate as we can. That’s true of Father Joe and anyone in these circumstances,” Faulhaber said.
The church’s practice in cases of suicide began changing in the 1960s, although its old policies on funeral rites for people taking their own lives were part of the church’s official teachings until 1983, he said. The changes were the result of a better understanding of human psychology and the concept of “diminished responsibility,” although Faulhaber acknowledged that older Catholics may still remember the church’s prior teachings on the subject.
“While we cannot condone the act [of suicide], certainly we can’t condemn the person,” he said. “He has to stand before God, as we all do.”
The late priest’s multitude of friends remembered him as a man who would rush out at any time of day or night to help police officers and firefighters in their time of need. He knew how to get a signed jersey from just about any sports hero to cheer up a sick child in the hospital. He could be counted on to show up with a dozen pizzas and words of comfort at the scene of a catastrophe. But above all, he was loved as a priest of the people who would do anything and everything for anyone.
Born June 21, 1958, in Buffalo, Moreno was a graduate of Cardinal O’Hara High School in the Town of Tonawanda and Wadhams Hall Seminary College in Ogdensburg.
He attended Christ the King Seminary in Aurora and was ordained by Bishop Edward D. Head on April 25, 1986 on Holy Spirit Church, a happy occasion commemorated last year at a Silver Jubilee celebration by hundreds of friends and loved ones.
The only priests ordained in Buffalo in 1986, Moreno, Gullo and Porpiglia remained close friends and referred to themselves as “the three Joes.”
Moreno served at parishes in Springville and Olean before his appointment to St. Margaret’s. Since 2005, he served as sacramental minister at St. Lawrence. He also ministered to law enforcement and other first responders, from Buffalo police officers to members of the State Police, transit police, fire departments across the region, FEMA, the CIA and the FBI.
He devoted himself to the community around him, from his work with the Mothers Club, bingo nights and the Italian Heritage Festival. When there was a person or family in need, he would reach out to his many contacts in the media to try to get them help, whether it was money cover heating bills or inspiring thousands to write get-well cards to a little boy facing brain surgery.
The day after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Father Joe was in New York City, giving comfort to rescuers and the loved ones of those lost that day.
At St. Lawrence, Moreno ran a food pantry and clinic. He also served at St. Mary’s in Cattaraugus County, and was chaplain at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital and at St. Francis Nursing Home.
Father Joe received many honors, including the E.H. Butler Award at least twice for his service; a proclamation from Mayor Byron W. Brown declaring his Jubilee celebration Father Joe Moreno Day; and an array of recognition for his service following 9/11 from the CIA, the FBI, President George W. Bush and later President Obama.
Moreno is survived by his father, Joseph Sr., and his twin sister, Susan Mary Moreno. The Mass will be at 10 a.m. Friday in St. Margaret’s, 1395 Hertel Ave. Visiting hours there will be from 2 to 9 p.m. Thursday.
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