INVESTIGATORS: Bring Maria home II - KMSP-TV

INVESTIGATORS: Bring Maria home II

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CHANHASSEN, Minn. (KMSP) -

New developments in the Fox 9 Investigation into a Chanhassen cemetery that has lost track of an unknown number of baby graves -- and for the first time, St. Hubert's Catholic Church is responding.

Since the story ran last week, support for the family has swelled.

MORE: Bring Maria Home

In the 50 years since John Rogers lost his one-day-old daughter Maria, he has only been able to visit a general area of the cemetery -- the baby area.

"We have always thought she was here," he told Fox 9 Investigator Trish Van Pilsum.

The Rogers family is unsure of the exact spot because they couldn't afford a marker. John Rogers' wife was still in the hospital when Maria was buried. He was overwhelmed with caring for his four other children -- the youngest of whom was gravely ill.

"I don't remember, but I probably wasn't in very good shape," Rogers admitted.

The priest at the time, Father Firmin Weber, did not perform a funeral, did not consecrate the grave and did not perform a grave site prayer.

"Maybe we should have spoken up more," John Rogers reflected. "I don't know."

A few years back, John and his wife, Patricia, inherited a family plot in the Eden Prairie cemetery and decided to move Maria to the spot where they would one day lie. The idea was to have Maria waiting for John and Patricia in the family plot.

"It didn't happen that way," Ann Rogers said. "He had a heart attack and died."

Now, both John Rogers and Maria are alone and their story, which aired last Wednesday, lit up social media. A Facebook page called Bring Baby Maria Home has drawn nearly 600 likes and dozens of supportive comments.

Many promised to contact St. Hubert's Catholic Church. The church wouldn't confirm whether they did, but late Friday night, the church posted this response to the story in its website.

VIEW: Pastor's response [PDF]

The current pastor, Father Rolf Tollefson, wrote that the church did not turn the Rogers family away. In fact, leaders met with them several times -- which is true. John Rogers' daughter, Cori, was at one of the meetings with Tollefson.

"He was very brusque and acted like it didn't matter," Cori Rogers Austin said.

St. Hubert's offered Maria a funeral at the church -- without a body -- and a marker at that cemetery in the general area of her body but refused to even try to look for her body so that she could be moved to be with her family. In fact, Rogers Austin said Father Tollefson told the family they would see her in heaven.

"That's true, but would he say the same thing about his mother if she was in a different cemetery and he wanted to bring her home?" Patricia Rogers asked.

Tollefson also wrote that a court order is necessary. Not exactly true -- it does take a court order to use special technology to locate lost graves, something St. Hubert's has refused to do.

It does not take a court order to probe cemetery ground, something St. Hubert's has also refused to do -- something, by the way, that St. Michael's Catholic Cemetery in Farmington, Minn., told the Fox 9 Investigators they have done from time to time. Plagued by similar record-keeping problems, when they have needed to know if a plot contains a burial vault or not, they have proved and done minor excavating just to make sure.

It does not even take a legal battle to exhume a burial vault.

"I would, in my situation, tell the family, 'We are not willing to do this," John Cherek, of The Catholic Cemeteries, said. "We are not willing to take the risk of doing this; therefore, we need to get a court order telling us to comply with it."

The Rogers would need a court order to open a burial vault to confirm it held baby Maria, and St. Hubert's says it is saddened by the entire situation.

"I definitely understand that and can appreciate the anguish they must have felt all these years," Cherek said.

It is the sanctity of the cemetery the church wants to protect. This is how the cemetery looked even after maintenance workers had been through -- garbage, collapsed graves. The families of other missing babies whose graves might be affected by a search have given the Rogers family their blessings, but the church now says it has no idea how many babies have been lost.

Since it appears the dispute is headed for court, a foundation has offered to help the Rogers family with their legal bills.

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