Evangelical Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of the Northwest
in the United States has the responsibility to bury their unknown
and indigent dead. It is a social obligation that demands to be
fulfilled. For a variety of obvious reasons human remains must be
tended to by some form of burial or cremation. While every County
does their best to identify anonymous remain, it is impossible to
also do so. When individuals die indigent and without family, the
responsibility for the disposition of their remains falls upon the
local counties. In doing research for this essay, I was surprised
to learn that an increasingly numbers of families are declining to
claim their deceased because they have no financial means for
private dispositions, thus leaving the responsibility to the local
either read about it in the newspapers or see some story on the
television news, I have not been very aware about indigent burials
until February 17th, 2011.
On that date
I learned that the County of Cook in Illinois had recently dug a
mass grave at Homewood Memorial Garden Cemetery located in Homewood,
Illinois. This cemetery has been contracted by Cook County to
provide burial space for indigent burials. From this mass burial,
we learned the following facts:
boxes costing $239.00 were stacked three high per "grave."
contains 26 infants mixed with assorted body parts and bones.
In light of
these revelations, I wish to pose the obvious question: Is this the
ethical and social manner to bury the indigent? From my pastoral
view the answer is a resounding NO.
Photos by Bill Morton
20th, 2011, I, along with others, paid a visit to this mass grave at
Homewood Memorial Garden Cemetery to see first hand what had taken
place. What we found and discovered was beyond any of our
imaginations. Had we not known that we were gathered inside of a
Photos by Bill Morton
have thought that we were at some landfill site. The concept of
"burial with dignity and respect" seems not to apply when it comes
to the burials of the indigent. Are burials with dignity and
respect afforded only to those families and friends who can purchase
them? It is an indictment of our social ethics and morality to
permit those who ended their lives indigent to have their remains
suffer further indignities. The carcasses of highway road kill are
disposed of better that those of the indigent.
the years, many local community come together to provide unknown
children and adults with dignified burials. This is done because
of people within our national family respects the gift of life, not
just at the moment of conception but also at its end. At times like
this I find the silence of those who campaign for "respecting life"
extremely deafening. The gift of life entails a complete circle -
marked by its beginning and its end. Why should the end of a life
be less respected and less valued than that of a life at its
Alternatives to Mass Burials of the Indigent
that there are viable alternatives to the practice of mass burials
of the indigent, alternatives which would insure that all who
indigent a burial which would provide dignity and respect to the
gift of live.
recommendation would be for cremation of the remains of those
indigent or unclaimed. But prior to cremation there must be DNA
record made of the individual. Coded urns could be stored in a
fitting place until such time as the possibility of claims being
made become impossible.
the options provided with cremation, my second recommendation would
be for unclaimed cremains to be interred in a simple common
columbarium or reserved in a underground ossuaries.
reality of available land space, the option for cremation and
fitting places for permanent internment, would be more cost
efficient to the Counties in their obligation to dispose of the
remains of the indigent.
appalling manner in which the indigents from the County of Cook in
Illinois were recently buried at Homewood Memorial Garden Cemetery
cannot be permitted to occur again in the future.
that we, as a national family, have the obligation to ensure the
dignity of life to all persons and I would go one step further to
say that we also have the additional obligation of ensuring dignity
and respect to the dead. I further propose that we look for
inspiration from the example of Saint Joseph of Arimathea, who
provide Jesus with a dignified place of burial. Joseph of Arimathea
is the patron saint for those in the funeral industry and his Feast
is celebrated on March 17th of each year.
Bishop for the Diocese of the Northwest