St. Mary's Guildelines

Cemetery Guidelines

Archdiocese of Indianapolis


The following is a list of general guidelines for operating our Catholic Cemeteries.

 Canon Law:

 (c. 1240) “Where possible, the Church is to have its own cemeteries or at least areas in civil cemeteries that are designated for the deceased members of the faithful and properly blessed. If this cannot be achieved then individual graves are to be properly blessed”.

 (c. 1208) The Catholic Church regards cemeteries as holy ground and they are blessed according to liturgical books. The fact and date of the blessing is to be recorded in the parish, if the cemetery belongs to a parish or in the archives of the chancery of the Archdiocese, if it is an archdiocese cemetery.

 (c. 1107 / c. 1241 / c. 1181) Parishes and even communities of religious may have their own cemeteries and the faithful of the parish have a right to be buried there but they also are free to choose the place of their burial. Families are permitted under canon law to have their own tombs or cemeteries. However, the Church’s traditional regard for the poor directs that “there is to be no favoritism toward persons in funeral and that the poor are not deprived of fitting funerals”.

 (c. 1241) As a norm, no one is to be buried in a church. Canon law; “unless it is a question of burying in their own church the Roman Pontiff, cardinals, or diocesan bishops, including retired ones”.

 (c. 1182) Burials in cemeteries are required to be documented in a death register.

 (c. 1243) Bishops are permitted to make further determinations and regulations regarding the cemeteries in their dioceses as long as they do not contradict the general law of the Church.

 State Law:

  1. Requires all cemeteries to be surveyed and recorded with their county seat.
  2.  Requires that all human remains placed in the ground must be covered with a minimum of 24” of soil. This includes whole body and cremations. This regulation does not apply to legally surveyed and recorded scattering gardens.
  3.  Requires that all burials and/or internments must have a burial permit and must be recorded and a copy of the records held in a central location; said records must be available to the public and/or family members.
  4.  Requires a court order, obtained from the local probate court to remove and/or re-locate human remains from one cemetery to another. The family must petition the court and bare the cost(s) of this action.
  5.  Requires that a permit be issued by the State Board of Health to transfer human remains from one cemetery to another. State permits are not required if moving remains within the cemetery, only written permission from the family. State law should be referenced to insure that the family member petitioning the transfer, in fact, has that right. Permits are also required by each state when crossing their boundaries. (State to state).
  6.  States that burial rights cannot be transferred without written documentation from the original rights holder. (The legal/current rights holder in the State of Indiana can sell burial rights). All private party sells must be documented and recorded with the cemetery. The parish/cemetery reserves  “first right of refusal” to re-purchase the burial rights.
  7.  Requires that any person(s) securing burial rights be given a bill of sales/certificate of burial to those rights. (You are conveying burial rights, not property ownership). The documentation is to include the rights owners name, date of purchase and a written description of the burial site and/or crypt/niche. It must also include a description of any services that may have been purchased in connection with this transaction.
  8. All services and/or items that cannot be delivered at the time of purchase must be trusted. An example of services and/or items, but not limited too, are: opening/closing, headstones, foundations and vaults.
  9.  All cemetery managers and pastors should be familiar with all state laws and regulations governing cemetery properties and their operations.

 A complete list of Indiana State Laws and Statutes governing cemeteries can be accessed at the following website:


  General Practices:

  1.  All contracts and/or agreements must be in writing.
  2.  The description and location of all burial spaces, niches and crypts must be recorded in writing and we recommend in map form also.  
  3.  All documentation and records should be current, in duplicate and stored in separate locations. All persons involved with cemetery operations should know the locations of all records and their duplicates! (Tens of thousands of cemetery records have been lost due to fire and flooding).
  4. Regulations covering operations, memorialization and/or decorations should be developed by the pastor, parish life coordinator, administrator and cemetery board. Remember, your regulations cannot contradict Canon or State law. Great care should be exercised during this process. The rules and regulations that are developed will have an impact on the future of maintenance, marker placement, grounds accessibility, family relationships and future sells.
  5.  Rules and regulations must be in written form and available to all families and/or visitors.
  6.  Memorials/headstones are not the property of the cemetery. Memorials/headstones are the property of the rights owner/family.
  7.  Hours of operation (open/closed) should be posted at all access points to the   
  8. property.
  9. Most, but not all, cemeteries require that ground burials be placed in vaults. The utilization of vaults minimizes ground settling and monument shifting.
  10. The Archdiocese recommends the use of vaults.
  11. It is advisable to maintain a perpetual care fund for future maintenance and care of the property. Generally, perpetual care funds are not used for capital projects. They are used for ongoing maintenance programs. The Archdiocese recommends that 15% of all sales be placed in the fund. For further information concerning perpetual care funds, contact the Office of Accounting Services located at the Catholic Center. A Perpetual Care fund can be started in an endowment through the Catholic Community Foundation or in an ADLF account.
  12.  It is state law that pre-need sales of opening/closing and merchandise be placed into a trust account (savings).
  13.  Every 2 to 3 years the cemetery board should review the cemetery regulations.
  14. Pricing for burial rights and services (graves, headstones, opening/closing, vaults and etc.) should be reflective of the local market.
  15.  All sales/certificate of burial rights documentation should state that the parish, cemetery and/or archdiocese retains the “first right of refusal” to re-purchase burial rights.
Last Published: May 9, 2013 5:49 PM
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