Apr 6, 2011 11:14 PM by Carolyn Cerda

Church Sued

A Catholic church in Vermilion Parish and the Diocese of Lafayette are being sued. The suit was filed this week by an Abbeville lawyer who represents 25 people. They say, St. Anne's cemetary officials removed personal items from gravesites without their permission.

"They thought is was vandalized," said Mona Reed, a plaintiff on the lawsuit. "All this time it was the committee from the church, the cemetarian and the keeper that were removing stuff and breaking stuff off the tomb. So, that was very devastating to us and why the Catholic church would allow that."

"It's vandalism and defacing a grave and that's what we want them charged with," said Blaine Stelly, another plaintiff. His mother and other relatives are buried at St. Anne's. "Just because they're on the cemetary committee and go to church don't give them a right to do what they did."

The suit claims, among other things, that property was damaged and plaintiffs received emotional distress, including extreme anxiety and depression because of it. Some of the relics had been glued to headstones over 30 years ago, surviving hurricanes Rita and Ike. Stelly and Reed say they just don't understand why they needed to be pulled off now.

"And I feel if the good Lord didn't want it there, that would have all gone away," said Reed. "We have bad storms come in and never damaged those things. So, why can't we have that like everybody else to help us through grieving too."

Reed and Stelly also say that nearby graveyards allow relics similar to theirs. They say they don't think that's fair. They also feel that relics are sometimes needed to help people grieve.

"Let people grieve like they want to grieve at the cemetary," said Stelly.
"Its hard for us to grieve, no less having to deal with this," said Reed. "We don't deserve to be hurt like this."

St. Anne's had sent out a bulletin at the church about the need for the relics to be removed. But, the plaintiffs argue that many people who own plots at the graveyards do not attend that church. And, some say they were told that if items were glued onto the tombs, those items could remain. St. Anne's said the removal of items were necessary to fall in line with new rules and regulations. The church also said that some items were in the way of cemetary upkeep, like cutting the grass or removing ant piles.

But, for at least 25 families the reasons aren't good enough. The plaintiffs are just hoping the lawsuit will allow them to continue placing personal items on their loved one's graves.

"I just want them to let us put our stuff back, so we can have our lives back," said Reed.

The Diocese of Lafayette had no comment on the lawsuit.



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