It’s not news to anybody that Catholic churches all over America are facing financial hardships, and that is certainly true of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Over the last few years, schools have closed and churches have joined forces in order to conserve resources, and two years ago the Archdiocese announced that they would begin leasing the thirteen cemeteries that it operates to a private company. Though some met this news with a shrug, glad to hear that the organization was finding creative ways to raise funds, others expressed concern that this would lead to non-Catholic burials taking place in the same final resting place as their family members. This begs the question – can a Catholic cemetery be sued for allowing non-Catholics to be buried there?
There are a number of reasons why a cemetery can be sued. Cemetery negligence is one of the primary lawsuits filed against cemetery operators. These lawsuits are filed as a result of cemeteries failing in their duties to maintain a burial plot or in some other way exhibit negligence. Examples include placing the wrong body into a casket and burying it in a family plot assigned to another person, burying a person in the wrong plot, misplacing a body or burying more than one body in a single plot. All of these are issues that represent a failure in providing what is known as a duty of care. A duty of care is a legal obligation to provide reasonable services that prevent foreseeable harm to others.
Some people believe that a cemetery that has been designated as a Catholic burial place has a duty of care to only bury Catholics in their plots, and that when a non-Catholic has been buried there it represents a form of negligence. This is not the case – in fact, there is nothing in Catholic canon law that prevents a non-Catholic from being buried in a Catholic cemetery, though there is always a possibility that a specific Catholic cemeteries rules may provide explicit rules that a cemetery is supposed to follow.
From a religious perspective, the Catholic Church expects that those who are Catholic will be buried in a Catholic cemetery, but the church is also well aware that not every Catholic marries a person who is also a Catholic, and that not every Catholic’s child or other relatives will be a Catholic. To that end, they generally allow non-Catholics to be buried in Catholic cemeteries. There are also frequently questions raised about those who have died after having violated Catholic doctrine. In some cases, this involves having gone through a divorce or having committed suicide. The church takes the same position in those instances, treating the deceased with understanding and compassion. None of these issues would provide an appropriate situation for a cemetery negligence lawsuit.
If you believe that your loved one has been the victim of cemetery negligence, you should take the time to discuss your situation with an experienced and knowledgeable cemetery negligence attorney from Bochetto & Lentz. Contact us today for more information.