The Archdiocese of Los Angeles bypassed local mortuaries and contracted with a for-profit company to build funeral homes at tax-exempt church cemeteries that will provide one-stop embalming, casketing, chapel service and burial.
    Associated Press reports that the deal, which will make the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese only the second to put mortuaries on church property, has prompted complaints of unfair competition from angry funeral directors, some of whom have served the archdiocese for more than a century.
    The archdiocese, which has a flock of 3.6 million, made a deal with mortuary consolidator Stewart Enterprises Inc. in 1998 to build funeral homes at six of the 11 tax-exempt, consecrated graveyards it operates in Southern California and at two it runs in the Tucson, Ariz., diocese.
    The angry rivals contend that the church's prestige and nonprofit status put them at a distinct disadvantage. ``It's wrong. The church should not engage in competition with private enterprise,'' says John J. Horan, operator of five mortuaries in Denver, the only other archdiocese with a mortuary on its property. The Denver archdiocese owns its funeral home outright.
    ``Imagine how persuasive the church can be,'' Horan says. ``It's kind of hard to fight a multimillion-dollar industry like the church.''x Horan says his funerals dropped from 800 a year to about 500 when the Catholic mortuary opened there. At least one traditionally Catholic funeral home went out of business. Others, like Horan, diversified to serve other faiths and denominations.
    Los Angeles Archdiocesan spokesperson Gregory Coiro defended the business plan.``We know there are people less than happy, but they are already in competition with other mortuaries. It just provides another option,'' he said.

1:13pm 3/5/99 / AP


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