Judge OKs archdiocese cemetery lease deal

SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Springfield, Delaware County, is one of the 13 cemeteries to be leased.
SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Springfield, Delaware County, is one of the 13 cemeteries to be leased. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 06, 2014

Philadelphia Orphans' Court Judge John W. Herron ruled Tuesday that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's plan to lease 13 cemeteries to a for-profit company was not a diversion of charitable assets, clearing the way for the deal to go forward.

Under the agreement between the archdiocese and StoneMor Partners L.P., announced in September, StoneMor will make an initial payment of $53 million, with an additional $36 million spread over the sixth through 35th years of the 60-year lease.

Herron noted in his opinion that the archdiocese's leasing plan "implicates delicate issues of faith and mortality." He said those concerns - involving, for example, the "sacred trust of burial" - were reflected in the 200 letters and phone calls on the plan to the archdiocese.

Those issues notwithstanding, "no formal objections have been filed of record to the archdiocese's petition despite extensive notice" to potentially interested parties, wrote Herron, who is also administrative judge for the trial division in Philadelphia.

The fact that the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, which is responsible for protecting charitable assets, did not object to the lease was "highly persuasive," the judge wrote.

"The archdiocese was very pleased to learn of the court's decree regarding the cemeteries transaction earlier today," said Ken Gavin, spokesman for the archdiocese.

"We remain committed to completing the lease and management arrangement with StoneMor in a smooth and orderly fashion, and will work toward that end," he said.

Gavin said the archdiocese and StoneMor will meet soon to identify a projected closing date.

StoneMor's president and chief executive, Larry Miller, said the Levittown company looked forward to "continuing operations at the properties in a manner consistent with the Catholic Church ministries."

The deal is a key component of archdiocesan efforts to deal with more than $300 million in long-term financial obligations.

Specifically, archdiocesan officials have said that $30 million of the initial payment would be used to reduce the $80 million shortfall in the church's trust and loan fund.

Money in that parish savings fund was used to pay for deficit spending under Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's predecessor, Cardinal Justin Rigali, starting in fiscal 2004.

The remaining $23 million of the initial $53 million payment will be split between the priests' pension fund and the archdiocese's self-insurance fund.


hbrubaker@phillynews.com

215-854-4651

@InqBrubaker

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