Indigent, unborn, given free burial by Chicago archdiocese

CHICAGO (CNS) — Eighteen simple wooden caskets containing indigent adults and unborn babies sat atop graves at Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery awaiting burial April 25. Beside them stood funeral directors dressed in black and holding single white carnations.

Just minutes before, each casket was removed from funeral hearses, which made a procession with a police escort from the Cook County Morgue to the cemetery on Chicago’s southwest side.

With some drizzling rain mixed in, it was a solemn beginning to a Catholic gravesite memorial service conducted by Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago. The journey began a few months back when the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office reported a backlog of more than 200 bodies in storage, more than its capacity. Part of the reason for the backlog was that the state of Illinois hasn’t paid funeral directors to bury indigent bodies since June 2011, according to news reports.

After hearing of the situation, Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago offered the county 200 graves to take care of the backlog. This was the first burial by Catholic Cemeteries since that offer was made. The county previously had other burials to clear some of the backlog.

Indigent means that the deceased could not afford to pay for his or her burial or their family could not pay. In some cases, no families could be found. In Cook County, unborn children are still considered human remains and must be buried. Other counties consider them medical waste and dispose of them.

County spokeswoman Mary Paleologos said she believes the practice in Cook County will change in the near future and the unborn babies will be disposed of as medical waste.

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