Church, Not Town, Owns Cemetery

In First Congregational Church of Harwich v. Eldredge, (MA Land Ct., Aug. 18, 2017), the Massachusetts Land Court held that the First Congregational Church of Harwich rather than the Town of Harwich has title to a cemetery adjacent to the Church and also has title to the Memorial Garden in which cremated remains of Church member families are buried. The litigation was filed when the Church objected to the Town’s plans to move to another area of the cemetery the cremated remains that are now buried above unmarked and unknown graves.  The court said in part:[L]ike the Church, the Town and the Cemetery Commission are entrusted to honor the dead. They have a special duty to honor the remains of those deceased whose descendants can no longer be found. Their authority does not extend to the power to order the existing cremains disinterred, but they are authorized to care for and preserve the area of the Memorial Garden under which the unidentified graves are located. The Cemetery Commission is permitted to take actions necessary for the preservation of these grave sites and to ensure that they are not further disturbed, including the power to bar any further interring of cremains in the Memorial Garden directly over the unmarked graves. The Church may continue to inter cremains in other areas of the Cemetery over which there are no ancient burial grounds.Cape Cod Chronicle has a more extensive report on the decision.



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