By Stephanie Hornback
Landmark News Service
Nelson Circuit Judge Charles Simms III said the lawsuit against the Rev. Jeffrey Leger and the Archdiocese of Louisville had the potential of reaching the U.S. Supreme Court because of the unique issues involved, including separation of church and state.
To do that, however, would take thousands of dollars and several years, which would not be in the best interest of either party, Simms said. He encouraged Leger and funeral director Ron Rust, who brought the suit, to reach an agreement. After more than three hours of deliberation Oct. 9 in Bardstown, they did.
Rust filed suit against Leger and the Archdiocese in August, seeking an injunction against certain aspects of a funeral policy Leger wrote for St. Catherine Catholic Church in New Haven.
Rust Funeral Home is also in New Haven, and Rust often conducted funerals at the church for St. Catherine parishioners. He believed that unless an injunction was issued to keep Leger from enforcing the policy, he would lose funerals and related income.
At issue were restrictions Rust claimed Leger placed on the funeral Mass concerning Biblical readings, who could provide music, which songs could be played or sang, the presentation of tributes and eulogies, who could act as pastor and deacon, which church could be used and who qualified to receive Catholic funeral rites. Rust also claimed Leger placed restrictions on when and where funerals could be conducted, and that Leger required all funeral Masses to be planned by him instead of the funeral director.
After Thursday’s hearing and deliberation in the judge’s chambers, Rust came back to the courtroom to tell the 40 supporters gathered there that the case would not go to trial. Families will be able to choose the music and readings they want for funerals, as long as it fits within the guidelines of the Catholic Church, according to Rust. He said any priest now can preside at a funeral at St. Catherine, and Dottie Hill can serve as organist.
Hill said she played the organ regularly at St. Catherine from 1989 until she and Leger had a disagreement about whether she should play in the choir loft or downstairs. She said the organ was moved downstairs after the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican or Vatican II. Hill chose to leave St. Catherine and now attends St. Vincent de Paul at New Hope.
“I felt like I was no longer wanted,” she said. “Of course, it had to be my decision.”
Edith Reiter of New Haven, who was a parishioner for 70 years before she left St. Catherine for St. Vincent de Paul. She attended Thursday’s hearing to show her support for Rust and thank him for finally bringing “to a head” what she considers a bad situation.
“For at least two years, we have complained and begged and pleaded with the Archdiocese to help us with problems we have had and are still having with our pastor,” she said.
Dr. Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer for the Archdiocese of Louisville, who accompanied Leger at the hearing, said the deliberation will result in better communication among parishioners, the funeral home and the pastor.