May 2014 Church & State | People & Events

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., knows that it owes quite a bit in state taxes thanks to its lucrative headstone and mausoleum business, and yet it hasn’t paid a dime of that money. Now it’s embroiled in a lawsuit that could reportedly have a major impact on the funeral business in the Garden State.

The Newark Star-Ledger reported that the archdiocese allegedly racked up tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps even more than $100,000, in use taxes, which account for seven percent of the wholesale prices of monuments and private mausoleums.

But in the past eight years, New Jersey has yet to see any of that money.

Records show that in December 2012, the archdiocese expected its headstone business would bring in about $500,000 annually.

A lawsuit, Monument Builders of Jersey, Inc., The Lincoln Monument Company, and Joseph Uras Monuments, Inc., v. Archdiocese of Newark, alleges that the archdiocese has turned its burial grounds into a cash cow – a potential violation of state laws regarding the use of cemetery revenue.

Although religious non-profits are generally tax-exempt, the archdiocese may have run afoul of the state tax code because it is buying monuments and private mausoleums for the purpose of making a profit and in direct competition with private corporations, the lawsuit claims.

In a response to the lawsuit, attorneys for the archdiocese admitted that the tax does, in fact, apply to the religious organization.

“The archdiocese is subject to the New Jersey use tax on its purchase of a monument or private mausoleum,” attorney Donald F. Miceli wrote.

The Star-Ledger noted that the archdiocese is moving aggressively into the sale of monuments and private mausoleums. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit said the archdiocese has a competitive advantage over secular monument businesses because cemeteries are a primary point of contact for families burying relatives.

 “Here’s what’s going to happen,” John Burns Jr., president of the Monument Builders, told the newspaper. “As time goes on, they’re going to perfect this. Their sales force is going to be better educated. They will monopolize the industry. And we will cease to exist.”

Ralph Rullis, another monument salesman, said he will lose 75 to 80 percent of his sales at McHugh-Tully Memorials in East Hanover if the archdiocese stays in the monument business.

“After doing this for 40 years, I would say it’s a certainty we would go out of business,” said Rullis.

This tax controversy is the latest blow to the reputation of the Archdiocese of Newark, which has been criticized for the lavish spending by its leadership. The Star-Ledger reported in February that Archbishop John J. Myers was building a costly extension to his future retirement home, which drew criticism from both inside the archdiocese and the outside community.