Flag rule raises dispute

By William k. Alcorn

Veterans, others take issue with restriction at cemetery

CAMPBELL — Area military veterans and some Catholic church parishioners are upset by the St. John the Baptist Cemetery Board’s recent decision to prohibit the placement of U.S. flags around the perimeter of the cemetery.

St. John Cemetery, on Villa Maria Road in Coitsville, is owned and operated by St. John the Baptist Church in Campbell.

John Macabobby, a World War II Navy veteran, said he is incensed that the flags will no longer be permitted. He was instrumental in getting the first of the flags erected in 2005, of which there are now about 150.

Further, Macabobby interpreted a letter, dated Feb. 16, received from the Rev. John M. Jerek, administrator of St. John Church, to also ban U.S. flags traditionally placed on veterans’ graves for Memorial Day and other patriotic holidays.

However, Father Jerek said the board’s decision does not apply to the gravesite flags.

“I would never, ever do that,” he said Monday in a telephone interview.

Father Jerek said the cemetery board was expanded from five to 10 members when Bishop George Murry asked the church to renew itself by reformulating its parish council and committees.

Father Murry is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.

The new cemetery board, chaired by Mary Margaret Starr, decided that the large number of flags displayed around the cemetery “seemed to compromise the Catholic identity of the cemetery. We believe that they create an impression resembling a more national/military cemetery rather than a Catholic one,” Father Jerek said.

He further wrote to Macabobby that the cemetery board thinks: “Time has come for us to emphasize more the religious heritage of the cemetery’s founders to restore a strongly spiritual sense of this sacred place. An overabundance of American flags takes away from that emphasis.”

He also noted that the cemetery board had never authorized the placing of flags around the perimeter of the cemetery.

However, Father Jerek said, “We did not, under any circumstances, want to dishonor our servicemen and women. The board determined that an appropriate expression of our national loyalty would be one large flag near the chapel on a high pole lighted at night, with a small garden placed around it and a memorial plaque honoring those who had donated the flags.” He said that would be installed this spring.

Also, Father Jerek said, there are flags of the branches of the military in front of the mausoleum and an American flag there as well. And, he said, the board has discussed placing U.S. flags between the main gates of the cemetery for major holidays, such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

He said cost was also involved in the decision to ban the flags. Flag protocol requires that the flags be lighted at night, and running electrical lines would be expensive. Also, he said the original flags become tattered and have to be replaced annually.

Finally, Father Jerek said the cemetery board is willing to consider comments on the matter.

However, he said no one has formally called or presented a letter to the board.

“I have been accosted at a public function and yelled at over the phone. But, we have not received any respectful requests to look further into this. If we received respectful correspondence, we’d surely look at it.”

Obviously, since this has become a “bit of an issue,” the board will discuss it at its next meeting at the end of the month, he said.

Macabobby has a different viewpoint about the board’s willingness to communicate.

He said he has tried but couldn’t get an audience with Father Jerek.

Macabobby, a member of VFW Post 7538 in Struthers and St. Michael Byzantine Church in Campbell, said he collected money for the original project and personally donated about $900. “It is sort of a legacy of mine.” he said.

“I’m very hurt,” he said. “I’m going to put up a little bit of a fight. I think the people who donated money are being cheated. It’s a shame that you can’t put up flags that the people already paid for.”

There are others in the community speaking out besides Macabobby.

Petitions are being circulated by citizens in Campbell, Struthers, Coitsville and Lowellville to do away with this current policy, said Karen Walczak in an e-mail.

She urged residents to voice their opinions about the situation to the Diocese of Youngstown.

“I am an American and a Catholic — proud of the first; in light of this situation, not so sure about the second,” Walczak said.

“We’re upset about it. This is uncalled for,” said Dominic Medina, former Campbell mayor and former commander of American Legion Post 560 in that city. “The whole city is upset.”


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