A view of headstones inside the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover. A lawsuit alleges Catholic Cemeteries in the Archdiocese of Newark illegally sell headstones and private mausoleums, then don't pay required tax on them. Photo courtesy of Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger

A view of headstones inside the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover. A lawsuit alleges Catholic Cemeteries in the Archdiocese of Newark illegally sell headstones and private mausoleums, then don’t pay required tax on them. Photo courtesy of Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger


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NEWARK, N.J. (RNS) A judge has ruled the Archdiocese of Newark did not violate state law when it began marketing headstones and private mausoleums directly to consumers at its Catholic burial grounds.

The decision, released Tuesday (April 29) in Superior Court in New Brunswick, N.J., deals a blow to the state’s headstone dealers, who argued in a lawsuit that Catholic cemeteries should fall under a law explicitly barring nonsectarian cemeteries from selling headstones and private family mausoleums.

The archdiocese became the first cemetery operator in New Jersey, religious or otherwise, to enter the lucrative headstone business in April of last year. Two independent dealers and their trade association, the Monument Builders of New Jersey, filed the lawsuit three months later, saying the new venture would swiftly undercut them and drive them out of business.

In the wake of the ruling against the dealers, Monument Builders President John Burns Jr. reiterated that prediction of financial ruin and said his group would appeal.

“This is going to destroy our business,” Burns said. “It’s going to spread from the Newark Archdiocese to the Trenton Diocese to the Metuchen Diocese and throughout the whole state. Then the nonsectarian cemeteries are going to pick up on it and say, ‘Hey, if the Catholic cemeteries can do it, we can do it, too.’”

Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Archbishop John J. Myers, said the archdiocese was thankful for the decision.

In a related matter, Goodness said the archdiocese has paid delinquent state taxes it owed as a result of its headstone business.

Under the archdiocese’s novel program, Catholic cemeteries own the private mausoleums and headstones in perpetuity. Consumers buy space inside the mausoleums, typically small structures that serve as the final resting place for between two and eight people.

The legal dispute did not involve large communal mausoleums.

Likewise, consumers don’t buy headstones from the archdiocese. They buy “inscription rights,” or the right to inscribe words and symbols on a headstone.

YS END MUELLER

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