Jennings County widow fights Catholic Church over husband's headstone

The church says the memorial is too secular.
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A Jennings County widow is taking on the Catholic Church in a fight to honor her husband's life and remember him in death.

Shannon Carr, 33, has filed a civil lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Saint Joseph's Catholic Church in Mount Vernon, Bartholomew County.

A monument to Carr's late husband is at the center of the fight.

"We just talk to him and tell him we love him," said Shannon Carr of her husband Jason of 11 years.

Carr though said she wonders every day if Jason, who she buried three years ago after a car crash, is really resting in peace.

"Is he at peace with all this going on?"asked Carr.

Carr said she's talking about Jason's final resting place in Saint Joseph's Catholic Church Cemetery in Mount Vernon.

"It's horrible. I mean, there's nothing there marking his grave other than a flat piece of concrete," explained Carr.

That's because Carr said the church wouldn't allow the $9,600 memorial bench she bought for Jason to be placed at his grave. Court documents showed the church said it was too secular.

So it's sat in pieces at the monument company for almost three years.

Pictures of the bench show it's been engraved with some of what Carr said were her husband's favorite things like a Nascar logo, a picture of his dog, and the ten-point buck he shot just before he died.

"I think it represents all of his life and our lives because it's our double headstone," said Carr.

Carr said she chose a bench because it reminded her two sons of the family's favorite Sunday activity, which Carr said was sitting on the couch and watch a Colts game or Nascar.

"My son says, 'Mommy, we can sit there and be with daddy again.' And I said, 'yeah, we can,'" remembered Carr.

Right next to Jason's grave sits the grave of the baby son the couple buried together 13 years ago.

"A headstone's the last thing you can do for somebody when they die. It's the final thing. And we can't even do that," said Carr of the church's decision to block her from putting in a bench for Jason.

The widow decided to sue the church, so she could install the bench. Carr has claimed when she bought the bench, the cemetery had no rules.

"If there were rules, then they would have been followed," said Carr, pointing out to a headstone in the same cemetery, designed to look like a barn.

"I feel everyone else is allowed to have theirs, but I haven't been allowed to have mine," said the widow.

The church said they want the lawsuit dismissed. They wouldn't talk on camera, but according to motion they filed to have the case dismissed, the church has explained a Catholic Cemetery is a sacred and holy place and a monument resembling a couch, doesn't belong there. They have also said, it's not up to the court to decide because the cemetery is governed by the Code of Canon Law which governs the Catholic Church.

According to Carr, the church offered to pay for her to find a new final resting place for her husband and son.

"Could you bury a son and husband twice?" Carr asked.

Carr said she just can't.