STOP UNLAWFUL EXHUMATIONS AND DESTRUCTION OF CULTURAL HERITAGE
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“Is it a man's right to burial decreed by divine justice”? (Antigone, Sophocles 441 BC)
In 1993 World War II Veterans protested against an exhumation licence issued by the Home Office (which then dealt with exhumation licences), which granted a builder in Halifax the right to desecrate every grave in a former Methodist burial ground, even though the prior consent of the owners of the 'burial rights' were not obtained. The Veterans were horrified to see graves, created within their living memory, being destroyed using a digging machine.
Since 1994 various organisation campaigned in the UK for better regulation of the exhumation law to protect graves from disturbance, mostly conducted for commercial purposes. Unfortunately, the practice of granting illegal licences continues to date, but responsibility now lies within the Ministry of Justice.
The lack of proper considerations has been exposed in the recent exhumation of the remains of King Richard III from underneath the car park in Leicester, as again the public was not even consulted on the proposed place of his burial.
Another recent example of a horrifying exhumation decision made by the Ministry of Justice concerned a prominent Catholic priest – F. Jarzebowski, who rested in a private burial ground in Fawley Court, near Henley - on -Thames. Fawley Court was purchased in 1953, mainly thanks to the donations of the Polish community and was entrusted to the Catholic Congregation of Marian Fathers, to serve charitable and educational purposes. The land was blessed by Karol Wojtyla in 1969, later to be Pope John Paul II, currently elevated to sainthood by Pope Francis.
The late Fr. Jarzebowski ran the Divine Mercy College for Polish Boys in Fawley Court, until his death in 1964. He was a famous figure within the community and his funeral was attended by English and Polish dignitaries alike. The late Fr. Jarzebowski was devoted to his Divine Mercy Project and his last wish was to be buried in Fawley Court, opposite the football ground, where he used to play with his pupils. A few years after his death, a unique church was erected near to the site of the priest’s grave and the land was consecrated. Prince Stanislaw Radziwill, who founded the church, still rests in the crypt.
In 2007, this unique property was put on sale by the Marian Fathers in breach of beneficiaries' trust. One of the conditions of the sale contract was for the Marian Fathers to remove the two graves, including that of F. Jarzebowski, as they still remained within the boundries of the property. If successful, this would trigger the release of £3,5m to the Marian Fathers and allow the new owner to persue development plans.
The Marian Fathers applied to the Ministry of Justice for an exhumation licence, despite the legitimate objections of Fr. Jarzebowski's nearest blood relative, Mrs Elzbieta Rudewicz, the Vicar Delegate's from the Polish Catholic Mission and members' of the Polish Community. During the judicial review, Lady Justice Hallett and Lord Neuberger (currently president of the UK Supreme Court) stipulated that the Marian Fathers and not Mrs Rudewicz should legally be declared the deceased’s next of kin and could therefore proceed with the exhumation, despite having no relationship with the deceased and acting neither in his best interest nor in the interests of the community.
The decision was appealed in 2012 on the following grounds: misapplication of the next of kin rule, discriminatory interpretation of the Burial Act 1857 (which legally recognises only the consecration of the Anglican Church) violation of religious beliefs, lack of consideration of relevant legal precedents, lack of consideration of what law actually applies, and no consideration of destruction of cultural and historical heritage site.
Despite the intervention of three non-profit organisations, the Supreme Court refused the public hearing by saying that: “the application does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance and for the reasons given by the Court of Appeal”. The Supreme Court neither referred to the intervening parties' submissions, nor notified them of the decision.
Shortly thereafter the Marian Fathers conducted the exhumation of the late F. Jarzebowski, in secrecy, burying his remains in a ditch, with no cross, to the outrage of the community.
The right to rest in peace and the right of having one's last wish honoured are fundamental human rights which have been part of natural law for thousands of years. In a civilized society these rights should be protected by transparent and consistent law regulations, delivered and executed appropriately by the government, and always with primary consideration for public interest. This has not been the case for Fr. Jarzebowski of the Divine Mercy College.
For these reasons, we are inviting you to sign our petition to the UK Ministry of Justice and the UK Supreme Court in support of Mrs Rudewicz's request for a public inquiry into the decision-making process regarding the exhumation of Fr. Jarzebowski and destruction of the Anglo-Polish heritage in Fawley Court.
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