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Family stunned after priest condemns teen son's suicide at funeral

By Cliff Pinckard • Dec 17, 2018 at 9:15 AM

TEMPERANCE, Michigan — The family of an 18-year-old male who took his own life is calling for the removal of a church’s priest after the priest used the teen’s funeral to condemn suicide.

The Archdiocese of Detroit released a statement Saturday saying that Father Don LaCuesta will not be allowed to preside over funerals in the near future and “would get help to become a better minister in difficult situations,” according to the New York Times. The archdiocese also issued an apology.

But Jeff and Linda Hullibarger, the parents of Maison, 18, say the priest’s words only compounded the pain of losing their son. They tell The Blade they want LaCuesta removed from his position at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance because they’re concerned he will cause emotional harm to more families.

“Maison didn’t deserve this. He basically called him a sinner in front of everybody,” Hullibarger tells The Times. “We were just blindsided.”

The parents say they met with LaCuesta before the Dec. 8 funeral and asked him to celebrate Maison’s life during the service, saying that LaCuesta listened and took notes.

But during the service, LaCuesta reportedly turned his emphasis on how suicide is wrong, CNN reports. At one point, Jeff Hullibarger says he approached the pulpit and said, “Father, please stop.”

“He didn’t miss a beat. He kept going,” Jeff Hullibarger tells CNN. “He said that word another handful of times. It made the worst day of our lives more worse.”

A copy of LaCuesta’s homily shows him saying: “God can forgive even the taking of one’s own life. In fact, God awaits us with his mercy, with ever open arms. ... Yes, because of his mercy, God can forgive suicide and heal what has been broken.

He later says “we must not call what is bad good, what is wrong right. Because we are Christians, we must say what we know is the truth -- that taking your own life is against God who made us and against everyone who loves us. Our lives are not our own. They are not ours to do with as we please. God gave us life, and we are to be good stewards of that gift for as long as God permits.”

Reports also say LaCuesta tried to end the funeral before letting Maison’s parents speak, but the funeral director intervened, allowing the parents to talk about their son.

Rev. Charles Rubey, founder and director of Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide, tells The Blade that LaCuesta handled the funeral poorly.

“For a priest to even hint that the person might not be in heaven is grossly wrong," Rubey says.

Temperance is located near the Ohio-Michigan border, just north of Toledo.

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