Thursday, February 24, 2011

Burials for the Indigent

Every County 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 remain 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 County.

Unless I either read about it in the newspapers or see some story on the television news, I am 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:

Cheap wooden boxes costing $239.00 were stacked three high per "grave."

This box 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.

On February 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 cemetery

we could 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.

Throughout the years, many local community come together to provide unknown children and adults with dignified burials. This is done because

the majority 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 beginning?

Alternatives to Mass Burials of the Indigent

I believe 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.

My first 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.

Because of the options provided with cremation, my second recommendation would be for unclaimed cremains to be interred in a simple common collumbarium or reserved in a underground ossuaries.

Given the 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.

The 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.

I propose 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.

I wish to conclude by encouraging all, especially those who devote much time and energy to the causes associated to the Right to Life and for the Dignity of Life to address the issues related to the burial of the indigents and to work to ensure that no person should ever be denied a dignified place to rest in peace. Work to ensure that your county and state has ordinances and laws which will prevent such disrespectful mass graves from being created again in the future.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Hollow Networking Void of Chicago's Gay Liberation Network

On Sunday, February 13, 2011, Chicago's Gay Liberation Network, under the leadership of Andy Thayer, held a rally and protest in front of Holy Name Cathedral, seat for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. The agenda for this rally was to condemn the "behind the scenes effort" of Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Cardinal Archbishop for the Roman Catholic Community of Chicago, for his efforts to prevent secular to provide gender common couples the rights of civil unions and/or marriages. Andy and his group usually hold a protest in front of Holy Name once or twice a year, earn some quick air time on television and in the print media and then go home. In most cases, I usually don't too much attention to Andy's visits to the Cathedral, but this year I watched the media's coverage of this event and have become motivated to offer comment on it.

I must confess that I am at a loss to understand the true agenda behind this protest, for it came across to me as unseemly and akin to something the Fred Phelps group would engage in.

I have problems with protest in front of houses of worship and I have a problem with GLN's preoccupation with the Roman Catholic Church, for the Roman Catholic Church is NOT the only religious body unfriendly - both within their internal forums and within the secular forum - to the gay and lesbian community. I believe that I am on safe ground when I say that leaders from the various religious bodies have either directly or indirectly lobbied in Springfield and Washington against all of the various legislative attempts to provide civil rights to to the gay and lesbian community. So why single out the Roman Catholics? Could it be that protesting in front of a Roman Catholic Church would increase the odds of media attendance?

Andy and his posse negate themselves when they or anyone else choose to attach theology and doctines. First of all, we do not live in a theocratic society. We live in a society in which membership within any religious body is a voluntary act. Those who protest the teachings or theology of a religious body in which they do not belong to have no business to do so.

If Andy and his organization wishes to make a legitmate contribution to the cause of civil rights, he and they should direct their energies away from the steps of houses of worship. This is a discussion best left within the halls of our houses of government and the courts.

We already have one Fred Phelps group to deal with. We don't need another counterproductive one.