The parents of a teenager who ended his own life earlier this month were shocked and hurt by the words of the priest during their son’s funeral: Rev. Don LaCuesta told mourners the boy might be in hell because of the way he died.
"Everybody seems to understand but the Catholic Church," said Jeff Hullibarger, father of 18-year-old Maison, a straight-A student and outstanding athlete who ended his own life on Dec. 4. The priest told mourners at the funeral that the youth might be blocked from heaven because of how he died, the couple said.
Jeff Hullibarger and his wife, Linda Hullibarger, who live in Temperance, Michigan, said they had met with Father LaCuesta well before the funeral, going over in detail what they expected in the homily to be delivered by their pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, even watching the priest take notes in their meeting.
"We wanted him to celebrate how Maison lived, not how he died," Maison's mother said. Instead, when LaCuesta gave his homily to hundreds of mourners and family members, "it was his time to tell everybody what he thought of suicide, (and) we couldn't believe what he was saying," Maison's father said.
Jeff Hullibarger said some at the funeral told him LaCuesta “almost had a smirk on his face” as he spoke, wondering aloud if the teenager would make it to heaven:
“He was up there condemning our son, pretty much calling him a sinner. He wondered if he had repented enough to make it to heaven. He said 'suicide' upwards of six times.
“There were actually a couple of younger boys who were Maison's age who left the church sobbing,” Jeff Hullibarger said. The bereaved father at one point walked to the pulpit and whispered to the priest, "Father, please stop," but their pastor continued with statements denouncing the way their son's life ended, the couple said.
The Archdiocese of Detroit said in a statement that LaCuesta will not be performing funerals “for the foreseeable future” and will seek assistance to become a “more effective minister in these difficult situations.”
"We share the family’s grief at such a profound loss. Our hope is always to bring comfort into situations of great pain, through funeral services centered on the love and healing power of Christ.
"Unfortunately, that did not happen in this case. We understand that an unbearable situation was made even more difficult, and we are sorry.
"After some reflection, the presider agrees that the family was not served as they should have been served. For the foreseeable future, he will not be preaching at funerals and he will have his other homilies reviewed by a priest mentor. In addition, he has agreed to pursue the assistance he needs in order to become a more effective minister in these difficult situations.
"We have been in contact with the family since learning of this situation, and we will continue to offer our support going forward."