Catholic officials in Detroit have been forced to apologise to a family after a priest condemned suicide at the funeral of their teenage son who’d taken his own life.
Maison Hullibarger died at the age of 18, and his family had hoped for a funeral service which celebrated the way he’d lived his life.
However, Father Don LaCuesta chose to criticise Maison for the way he’d died in front of his grieving family and friends, going as far as to question whether Maison would be allowed to enter heaven.
Father LaCuesta, of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Monroe County, has since been removed from funeral duties. Maison’s family now want to see him removed from his post altogether.
As reported by the Detroit Free Press, Maison’s parents, Jeff and Linda Hullibarger, had met with Father LaCuesta prior to the funeral and had expressed what they’d wanted included in the homily. However, the priest ignored their wishes.
Maison’s father Jeff said:
It was his time to tell everybody what he thought of suicide, [and] we couldn’t believe what he was saying,
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.
At one point, Jeff even approached the pulpit to ask Father LaCuesta to stop. However, the priest continued to make hurtful statements about Maison’s death.
Father LaCuesta even tried to prevent Jeff and Linda from eulogising their son, even though this had already been agreed upon.
I fervently pray for support the parents in this case. It was not a choice! Madison was a victim. God Bless Maison who is IN HEAVEN! #MaisonHullibarger
— Jane (@jeng830) December 15, 2018
Nothing – not the manner of #MaisonHullibarger's life or the manner of his death, not the cruelty of Father LaCuesta or the failures of those who supervised him, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING separates Maison or anyone else who completes #suicide from the love of God in Jesus Christ.
— Kate Mackereth Fulton (@TheSecondAlive) December 15, 2018
The Archdiocese of Detroit has since released the following statement on the matter:
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.
Maison had been a student of criminal justice at the University of Toledo, who excelled as an athlete as well as academically. He died on December 4, 2018.
@Pontifex what the so called 'Reverend' Don LaCuesta did at the funeral service of #MaisonHullibarger was unforgivable – and as a Catholic I'm deeply disturbed. Remove him NOW or lose more of your flock.
— Michael Flynn (@Flynnster80) December 16, 2018
Until relatively recently, the Catholic church had treated death by suicide as an unforgivable sin. However, the church now reportedly upholds the belief, those who die by suicide after suffering extreme psychological stress could be forgiven.
Our thoughts are with the family of Maison Hullibarger at this difficult time.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. Call Samaritans for free on their anonymous 24-hour phone line on 116 123.
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.