Flag flap at Pa. cemetery

December 15, 2008 4:21:23 PM PST
A Carbon County cemetery is at the center of a controversy that involves the Catholic Church and the American flag."I put a flag on my brother-in-law's grave this past Friday, and on Monday it was gone," said Tommy Pilla of Nesquehoning.

At first glance, cemetery visitors thought this was a case of heartless vandals stealing flags from the graves of US war veterans in Nesquehoning.

But it turns out that the people removing the flags are workers from the nearby St. Francis of Assissi Catholic Church, which bears the responsibility of cemetery maintenence.

Officials from the Diocese of Allentown say the parish priest decided to remove the flags before the onset of winter.

"Because some of them were blowing around the cemetery, and with the onset of snow this winter they were going to be buried, and he thought it would be disrespectful of the flags, to be buried in snow," said Diocese spokesman Matt Kerr.

But the relatives of those buried here, and local veterans groups, say that what's being done in the name of cleanliness is tantamount to grave desecration.

Members of the community have already replaced all of the removed flags, and then some.

Now, they're vowing to keep watch over the burial sites to make sure no more flags are removed without family consent.

"It's about the flag and what it represents, whether it's torn or tattered or what. It's what it represents to us servicemen," Pilla said.

"If I was here, and they were trying to take the flag off my father's grave, I would tell them to keep their hands off it," said Joe DiGiglio of New Columbus Twp.

The Diocese of Allentown says its backing off this issue. Officials say the parish will no longer remove flags from cemeteries in Nesquehoning, but they say the responsibility of maintaining them now falls to veterans groups.

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