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Widow sues church over refusal to install late husband's NASCAR-inspired headstone

An Indiana woman who wanted to honor her late husband with a headstone that captured his interests in sports and the outdoors is suing a Catholic church for refusing to install it.

Shannon Carr spent $9,600 on the black granite headstone to mark the grave of her husband, Jason Carr, who died in an August 2009 automobile accident. The headstone is shaped like a couch and features images of a deer, a dog and color logos of NASCAR and the Indianapolis Colts.

The Rev. Jonathan Meyer, priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church, notified the monument maker that the headstone didn't meet the cemetery's standards and couldn't be placed in the church's century-old graveyard, The Republic reported. But Carr says in her lawsuit that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis Properties Inc., which owns the cemetery, never produced any regulations for the plot until more than a year after she tried to have the headstone installed in 2010.

The issue has divided the church community and sparked allegations that the church hasn't treated Carr's family with compassion, which Meyer denied.

"We provided the family funeral rites, prepared a funeral meal and offered family members individual counseling after the services," Meyer said. "We were with them the entire way until this matter came up."

Meyer says in an affidavit that photographs of the monument were shown to the St. Joseph Parish Council six weeks before Carr purchased it and that the council determined the monument wasn't acceptable because of its secular nature. He said he informed Carr of the decision.

"They told her not to move forward with the purchasing of the monument, but she went ahead anyway," Meyer said. "We have consistently communicated the same message prior to the purchase and after the purchase. We did not think a granite couch was an appropriate monument in our historic cemetery."

Meyer acknowledged that the rules for the cemetery were formalized after Carr bought the headstone, but he said they were known before that. The archdiocese says various regulations regarding the cemetery have existed since the graveyard was established in 1907.

Archdiocese attorney John S. Mercer says in court documents that the lawsuit falls outside the court's jurisdiction because the First Amendment prohibits courts from taking indirect control over Church affairs.

Meyer said the pressure on the church to allow the monument to be erected reflects a flaw in today's society.

"Our culture breaks all the rules to make people feel good," Meyer said. "Faithful Christians know rules and regulations are set up so there can be good for everyone."

Shannon Carr declined to discuss the case, but her father-in-law, Henry Carr, said the dispute has created bitterness within the church community.

"I haven't been back to (St. Joseph) church and have asked that I not be buried there along with my son," he said. "I'm told the controversy is splitting the church apart, tearing it in half. But I guess that's what has to be done."

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