In the Chicago area, the family of a deceased Catholic mother is fighting with the diocese that owns the cemetery where she is buried. The matter in dispute: the wording on the woman's tombstone.
That certainly sounds newsworthy to me, so it's not surprising that the Chicago Tribune jumped on the story.
This is a case where precise language is needed to explain the positions of both sides, and the Tribune provides it.
The lede lays out the basic facts:
Marguerite Ridgeway was a fervent Catholic until her faith was shaken when church sex abuse scandals came to light, particularly a decades-old trauma recounted by her daughter-in-law.
Now Ridgeway’s son wants to install a marker at his late mother’s gravesite in Wheaton bearing the inscription “She supported priest rapist victims.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet, which owns Assumption Cemetery, has objected to what it calls the “explicit language” of the epitaph.
Ridgeway’s son, Jack Ruhl, of Kalamazoo, Mich., recently sent a rendering of the planned marker to the cemetery, along with a $350 check to cover the installation fee.
“I ask that you do not dishonor the memory of my mother by further delay in installation of her grave marker,” he said in an email to officials with the diocese earlier this month.
An attorney for the diocese in an Oct. 6 letter proposed removing the word “rapist” and substituting softer language, such as “She supported clergy sex abuse victims,” or “She supported victims of clergy sex abuse.”
The letter described the word rapist as “graphic, offensive and shocking to the senses.”
Keep reading, and the story identifies the attorney and offers additional insight on the diocese's official position:
“This is not a subject that we at the Diocese of Joliet shy away from; it is a sad chapter in our history that we think about daily,” diocese attorney Maureen Harton said in the letter. “Our concern must be with the many people who visit Assumption Cemetery with the expectation that their quiet time with their loved ones will be peaceful, tranquil and free of stress and anxiety.”
The letter added that Ridgeway signed a contract in 2001 agreeing that a diocese cemetery official must approve all memorials before they can be placed at the grave.
“The inscription you have submitted has not been approved; rather, we ask you consider one of the above variations or a similar less graphic version,” the letter said.
From there, the Tribune goes into more detail with additional quotes from the family, gathered both from telephone interviews and emails to the diocese.
The paper ends with highly relevant examples of cemeteries across the nation facing "conflict stemming from the fallout of church sex abuse."
Overall, this is an extremely solid report.
I did wonder two things after reading this story — and yes, I've probably entered the realm of nitpicking:
• First, I want to know how the Tribune found out about the dispute: Did the family contact the newspaper? Or did the paper find out about it through a different source? (For GetReligion readers, I'm curious to know if you think this question matters: When you see a story like this in your paper, do you want the news organization to tell you how it came across the information? How much does that matter to you?)
• Second, I want to know if the Tribune sought additional comment from the diocese beyond the attorney's statements in the letter? I suspect that the bishop and diocese declined to comment beyond what was said in the written documents. But if that's the case, I wish the Tribune had specified it. If, on the other hand, the paper made no attempt to talk to the bishop or diocese about the issue, I think the Tribune missed out on a potential opportunity to make this already excellent story even better.
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