Fort Wayne (Indiana) to Have One Stop Shop for Catholic Funerals

The Catholic Cemetery Association in Fort Wayne, Indiana announced that a Catholic Cemetery is to be the new site for the Divine Mercy Funeral Home. The facility will have two visitation rooms, with personal family rooms as well as a crematorium and embalming facility. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese views the timing as ideal since Pope Francis has deemed this past year (Dec 8th, 2015-Nov. 20, 2016), a Holy year of Divine Mercy. Bishop Rhoades pointed out that upon this past year’s focus of Divine Mercy many Christians have studied and acted on the Corporal Works of Mercy. There are seven Corporal Works of Mercy: (1) feed the hungry (2) give drink to the thirsty (3) shelter the homeless (4) visit the sick (5) visit the imprisoned (6) bury the dead (7) give alms to the poor. These works are found in Jesus’s direct teachings in the Gospel of Matthew 25: 31-45 and in terms of death fall central to the funeral ritual of Catholics. The Bishop expressed excitement to have the Church’s involvement in the entire death and burial process.

In some ways, it is a wonder that more Catholic cemeteries have not expanded in this way before now. Many funeral homes adapt to the religious views of their patrons-- as one would expect. Funeral directors are professionals that learn and polish their skills in vital areas—but when a Catholic funeral is so intertwined and fundamental to those practicing it makes sense to have full service facilities. Is this the beginning of a trend? It could go either way, because this industry is highly regulated it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some legal trouble. One example is New Jersey’s new law that took effect this past April banning monument sales by religious cemeteries. The Archdiocese has filed suit to fight back since it does not seem just that the government can ban harmless commerce just to protect industry insiders. Is there a possibility that enough business will leave the private funeral homes to cause a problem in Fort Wayne? Maybe-- the facilities also include a crematorium a very interesting addition considering the Church’s preference for burial and recent decree requiring cremains to be kept on holy ground. While the demand for cremation continues to rise, it seems likely Catholics that do choose cremation will naturally want to have it done in the Catholic crematorium. However, religious cemeteries enjoy many exemptions under state laws and attract a very specific crowd. So, as with anything else, it comes down to the money. If enough Catholics begin relying on Catholic funeral homes and crematories the private institutions will feel the effects and that is when law makers will be asked to weigh in.

Brandy Nickoloff

Disinterment for Driveway? Error Pits Cemetery Against Family

In 2014, Shirley Sisco was buried at Pretty Prairie United Methodist Cemetery in Howe, Indiana. Now, the cemetery wants Sisco’s family to relocate her remains by November 1, 2016, the second anniversary of her death.

The reason? A proposed driveway.

According to the cemetery, “Sisco was buried in the wrong location, and . . . the grave and resting place are currently in the way of a planned driveway.” Understandably, Sisco’s family is none too pleased. They have hired an attorney and argue that rather than disinter and relocate Shirley’s remains—which would have the effect of separating her from other family members—the cemetery should change the path of the proposed driveway.

However, whether the cemetery can compel the Sisco family to disinter and relocate Shirley’s remains turns on the interaction between Indiana law and the rules and regulations of Pretty Prairie United Methodist Cemetery.

The local media covering the feud emphasizes that “Indiana law . . . gives a bit more leeway to religious organizations operating cemeteries.” That is true. In fact, Ind. Code Ann. § 23-14-33-3 expressly exempts cemeteries associated with religious and fraternal organizations from many of the requirements that otherwise govern cemeteries in the state. That includes § 23-14-57, which generally requires a member of the decedent’s family to consent to disinterment.

Nevertheless, the Siscos may still prevail. How? Well, religiously affiliated cemeteries enjoy the aforementioned exemption only so far as their rules and regulations conflict with Indiana law. Thus, if Pretty Prairie’s rules are silent as to disinterment, Shirley may only be relocated with her family’s consent. Unfortunately, further analysis is impossible given that the cemetery’s rules are not publicly available. Regardless, now that attorneys are involved, it likely that Shirley’s remains will remain in their present location well beyond the second anniversary of her death.

Mickey Herman

Cemetery Tourist: Crown Hill Cemetery In Indianapolis, Indiana

DSC03465Crown Hill Cemetery was incorporated as a non-profit, non-sectarian cemetery in September 1863.  The cemetery originally included 236 acres of farmland located north of Indianapolis, Indiana.  The first interment, of Lucy Ann Seaton, took place on June 2, 1864.  In 1866, the federal government purchased a portion of the cemetery and dedicated it as a national cemetery for the interment of Union soldiers.  Additional acreage was purchased in 1869, 1886, 1887, and 1911. The cemetery currently includes 555 acres, which makes it the country's third largest cemetery. 

I grew up a mile away from Crown Hill Cemetery and it has always been at the edge of my consciousness.  It has only been in the last few years that I've taken the time to really explore the cemetery, which serves as a guide to the history of the city of Indianapolis.  My most recent visit took place on November 8, 2016. 

Crown Hill Cemetery is named, transparently, for a hill known as "The Crown."  Before Indianapolis merged with Marion County in the 1970s, The Crown was the highest point in the city.  (For those interested in Indianapolis trivia, the highest point is now in Pike Township.)  At the top of The Crown is the tomb of James Whitcomb Riley.  Riley, known as the "Hoosier Poet," was born in Greenfield, Indiana in 1849.  Although Riley is now little known outside of Indiana, he was famous in his day, primarily for his poems "Little Orphant Annie" ("An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you Ef you Don't Watch Out!") and "The Raggedy Man."  His death in 1916 was national news.

Continue reading "Cemetery Tourist: Crown Hill Cemetery In Indianapolis, Indiana" »

Who gets to choose whether a body is moved?

On November 1, 2014, a West Michigan family buried their loved one, Shirley Sisco, at Pretty Prairie United Methodist Cemetery in Howe, Indiana. Sisco laid to rest for nearly years surrounded by other deceased members of her family. 

All of this changed when members of Sisco's family were informed that the cemetery had plans to dig a driveway right where Sisco was buried. Apparently, Sisco was buried in the wrong location, and the driveway construction was planned at the time of her burial.

Instead of changing the plans for the driveway, the cemetery plans to change the final resting place of Sisco, contrary to Sisco's family's wishes. The cemetery's plan is to dig trenches on either side of Sisco's vault, dig a new grave at the foot of Sisco's current grave, and pull her vault into the new grave with straps, a thought Terry Bower, Sisco's daughter, struggles with.

Who gets to make that decision?

Because Pretty Prairie Cemetery is a religious cemetery, Pretty Prairie has a lot of leeway in creating rules and regulations. According to Indiana Code 23-14-33-3, the rules and regulations of religious cemeteries trump the general cemetery law. In other words, the governing head or body of a religious cemetery is able to establish rules and regulations for that religious cemetery without regard for any other cemetery laws that govern all other cemeteries.

Under Indiana Code 23-14-33-3, if Pretty Prairie has no rules or regulations regarding the relocation of a body, the general cemetery code applies. Even under the general cemetery code, Pretty Prairie would still be able to move Sisco's body. Though Indiana Code 23-14-57-1 limits the removal of a body from a cemetery without consent of the next-of-kin or a written order, Indiana Code 23-14-57-3 provides that a cemetery is not prohibited from moving a body to "some other suitable plot in the cemetery." Additionally, Pretty Prairie cannot be held liable for burying Sisco in the wrong plot in the first place, according to Indiana Code 34-14-59-1(1).

Unfortunately for Sisco's family, there is probably nothing they can do to stop Pretty Prairie from moving Sisco's body and constructing the driveway right through her old grave.

Sarah Saint

Mandatory Funerals for Fetal Remains: "Politics and dealing with reality are two different things"

I've written about this topic before, particularly with respect to the Indiana law enacted in 2015 and amended in 2016.  That law gives women who have abortions "the right to determine the final disposition of the aborted fetus."  Ind. Code Section 16-34-3-2(a).  It also requires a woman to fill out a form prescribed by the state indicating her decision regarding "the final disposition of the aborted fetus before the aborted fetus may be discharged from the abortion clinic or the health care facility." Ind. Code Section 16-34-3-2(a).  The law also defines the disposition methods permitted by law for aborted or miscarried fetuses of less than 20 weeks gestation.

Ind. Code Ann. § 16-34-3-4 Cremation or interment of aborted fetus; permit; certificate of stillbirth

(a) An abortion clinic or health care facility having possession of an aborted fetus shall provide for the final disposition of the aborted fetus. The burial transit permit requirements of IC 16-37-3 apply to the final disposition of an aborted fetus, which must be interred or cremated. However:

(1) a person is not required to designate a name for the aborted fetus on the burial transit permit and the space for a name may remain blank; and

(2) any information submitted under this section that may be used to identify the pregnant woman is confidential and must be redacted from any public records maintained under IC 16-37-3.

Aborted fetuses may be cremated by simultaneous cremation.

(b) The local health officer shall issue a permit for the disposition of the aborted fetus to the person in charge of interment for the interment of the aborted fetus. A certificate of stillbirth is not required to be issued for an aborted fetus with a gestational age of less than twenty (20) weeks of age.

(c) IC 23-14-31-26, IC 23-14-55-2, IC 25-15-9-18, and IC 29-2-19-17 concerning the authorization of disposition of human remains apply to this section.

Several reporters have examined Indiana's law in the past few months, putting it into the context of a national movement to change state laws regarding the disposition of human remains and to expand them to include all products of concepts, regardless of gestational age.  Traditionally, states have treated fetuses of greater than 20 weeks gestation as if they had been born alive for purposes of disposition—they receive a special kind of death certificate and are then treated the same as any other human remains.  States have traditionally been silent about the disposition of fetuses of less than 20 weeks gestation.  Two groups have objected to that bifurcation—women who suffered an early miscarriage and wanted to control the disposition of the fetal remains, and pro life groups who believe that life begins at conception and the 20 week gestation line deprived fetal remains of a dignified disposition.

Continue reading "Mandatory Funerals for Fetal Remains: "Politics and dealing with reality are two different things"" »

The Vultures are Coming—Air Burials in Indiana?

In Lafayette, Indiana, Illa Solomon lived with the corpse of her 88-year-old husband, Gerald “Scooter” Gavan for nine months without reporting the death. Her aim was to fulfill her husband’s request for an air burial. This supposedly coveted air burial is an ancient practice of Tibetan Buddhists where birds slowly devour a corpse.

In February 2013, Solomon purchased the house next door to her house. Though Solomon claimed Gavan helped her renovate the house through the winter months, the coroner found Gavan was actually dead since summer. Solomon initially claimed her husband had been dead only five days before officers found the severely decomposed corpse, but eventually Gavan confessed the body had been decaying for nine months. She even admitted the smell of the decomposing body was so bad she could no longer live in her home with it. Hence, she bought the neighboring house and would sleep next door after returning each night to open the side door in hopes that birds would fly in and feed on her husband. When explaining her decision, Solomon stated, “That's kind of a little thing, isn't it? Keep a secret and open the door?" She said, "All he wanted me to do was just keep his secret and open the door.”

Solomon was, at the time of her husband’s death, unaware Texas State University’s Forensic Anthropology Center studies scavenger birds, like vultures, as they feed on donated human bodies. She now says it is her goal to get her late husband’s remains to the Texas body farm. She explained, “I do hope that if somebody else gets put in the same situation I got put into, they'll know about the body farm and the body ranch, so they'll know where to go.”

Of course, in failing to report her husband’s death to authorities, Solomon violated state law. In Indiana, it is a misdemeanor to fail to report a dead body and a misdemeanor for the unlawful disposal of a dead body. Solomon’s defense was, “I know I did commit failure to report and that is a crime. I don't know if they'll charge me with failure to report or not.” In the end, Solomon’s lack of knowledge about the law did not save her. She pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of failing to report a dead body and unlawful disposal.

If Solomon was truly unaware of her legal obligation to report her husband’s death, it seems unfortunate she was punished for her lack of awareness. Additionally, her explanation that she was only doing something small to carry out the wishes of her husband suggests the law may be too restrictive. Why shouldn’t Gavan be able to devote his body to an air burial, especially if his wife was willing to give up their entire home during the process? It appears the only burden the air burial created was the burden on Solomon.

Interestingly, upon investigation into potential foul play on Solomon’s part, she produced her husband’s last will and testament. The document stated that Gavan, an 88-year-old WWII veteran, wanted a “traditional burial.” Solomon claimed this document and the phrase “traditional burial” tipped her off that her late husband wanted the air burial. She specifically alleged the documents show that her husband wanted to be eaten by birds in India. Solomon’s dogged interpretation of Gavan’s wishes seems to have something missing. Was she mentally addled by her husband’s passing? Was she engaged in foul play? Or did Solomon really just misinterpret her husband’s will the way he wanted? So perhaps Indiana’s law for reporting human passing is the best way to avoid such questions.

Katie Ott

Indianapolis Cemetery Accused of Deceiving Mentally Ill into Buying Funeral Packages

A recent lawsuit accuses Crown Hill Funeral Home and Cemetery, Indianapolis' third-largest cemetery, of selling pre-need funeral packages to the elderly and mentally ill in a violation of state law.


According to a complaint filed in late September, the cemetery sold a nearly $12,000 funeral services package to 68 year-old Vivian Jackson, who is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis, while she was staying at a mental health facility. It was only after she left to stay with her daughter, her legal guardian, that it was discovered that Ms. Jackson had been paying nearly $140 a month over the last two years to the cemetery. According to her daughter, Ms. Jackson neither knew of the payments nor expressed any desire to be buried at Crown Hill. 

The class-action lawsuit alleges that the cemetery violated Indiana's Pre-Need Act by directly soliciting patients in mental health and health care facilities for prepaid cemetery and funeral arrangements. Many of these patients suffer from conditions that require a legal guardianship to make financial decisions for them. Although currently only Ms. Jackson is named in the suit, her attorneys believe she is just one of many to be taken advantage of these predatory sales techniques.

“We hope this lawsuit will end these outrageous practices,” said attorney Vess Miller of Cohen & Malad, LLP, the firm representing Ms. Jackson.

While pre-need funeral and burial arrangements serve an important need by allowing one to decide the manner and disposition of their remains, they must be tightly regulated to protect consumers from salespersons who may not have their best interest in hear. Whether or not Ms. Jackson's suit succeeds, this story is a reminder of the importance of consumer protection laws, particularly in the funeral and cemetery industry, where economics and emotion are so closely intertwined.

Steven Verez