Catholic woman may receive settlement over her son's cremation

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A Catholic woman who sued the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office claiming her son was cremated in violation of her religious beliefs will likely soon receive a settlement of nearly half a million dollars.  

Maria Elvira Quintanilla Cebreros, a Tijuana, Mexico woman, alleges that L.A. county failed to notify her of her son’s death after he went missing three years ago, and also cremated his remains without her permission. Earlier this month, the Office of County Counsel recommended a $445,000 settlement. 

In a 2020 lawsuit, Cebreros asserted that the county failed to perform its mandatory duties and violated her civil rights by failing to notify her that her son, Jesus Fabricio Sanchez Cebreros, had died in 2019 and then, without her permission, cremated his remains, the San Jose Mercury News reported. 

“Plaintiff is a devout Roman Catholic,” the lawsuit reads as reported by the Mercury News. 

“Her religious and cultural belief systems include a strong conviction that the bodies of loved ones must be buried in a cemetery near the family. It is against the tenets of her faith to cremate a loved one,” the suit states, adding that Maria “agonizes over whether she will see him in the afterlife.”

According to the lawsuit, the younger Cebreros frequently entered the U.S. legally to visit his young son in San Diego County. 

Jesus Cebreros’ stabbed body was found in a bag next to an interstate in June 2019; his death was ruled a homicide by police. The county coroner allegedly quickly identified the body and his next of kin, but the lawsuit claims that Maria was not notified. 

The county then allegedly misidentified Cebreros’ place of birth and birth date on his death certificate and cremated his remains on July 30, 2019, during which time Maria was still searching for him. When she inquired with the county coroner, the office allegedly confirmed his death to her and gave her his personal effects found with his body. 

The Catholic Church teaches that cremation, while strongly discouraged, can be permissible under certain restrictions. 

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s October 2016 instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo states that while cremation "is not prohibited," the Church "continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased."

In that same document, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified that a person’s ashes are not to be scattered, nor kept in the home or preserved in mementos or jewelry, but instead must be “laid to rest in a sacred place," such as in a cemetery or church. 

As the document explains, "by burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body, and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity."

Hispanic Catholic funerals are generally major events attended by large numbers of family. Although many Hispanic Catholics prefer burial for their loved ones, in 2020, cremations among Latino Californians outpaced burials, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of data from the California Department of Public Health.

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