A Michigan mother is suing the Archdiocese of Detroit alleging that the priest who spoke at her son’s funeral questioned whether her son would go to heaven after dying by suicide, adding to the family’s suffering.
Linda Hullibarger and her husband, Jeff, said they met with Rev. Don LaCuesta in 2018 to plan funeral services for their 18-year-old son, Maison, a straight-A student and outstanding athlete who died on Dec. 4.
According to the complaint filed Thursday in Wayne County, the parents met with LaCuesta well before the funeral to make clear they wanted the priest to deliver a positive and uplifting message that celebrated the life of their son.
“We wanted him to celebrate how Maison lived, not how he died,” Maison’s mother told the Detroit Free Press in 2018.
Instead, the suit alleges that LaCuesta used his homily at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church to insert his opinions on suicide, questioning whether the teen would go 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,” Maison’s father said. “He said ‘suicide’ upwards of six times.”
According to the suit, the family had not disclosed the nature of the teen’s death to the priest.
Maison’s father told the Free Press that at one point he had even walked up to the priest and said, “Father, please stop,” but the pastor continued with his statements.
“No parent, no sibling, no family member, should ever, ever have to sit through what we sat through,” Maison’s mother said in the statement released by the family’s attorney. “When you’re already beyond devastated, why would you make it even worse?”
The couple said last year that LaCuesta’s actions not only upset the family, including their five other children, but also that the priest tried to keep them from eulogizing their son, even though that had been agreed on in advance
Pentagon and VA: We can prevent military suicide — together
Surviving suicide: She worked in suicide prevention. Then one day she had to save herself
Death by suicide has been considered sinful by the Catholic Church and other religions for centuries, but the church has softened its stance in recent decades.
Following her son’s funeral service, Maison’s mother sought LaCuesta’s removal. According to her lawsuit, a call with Bishop Gerard Battersby confirmed that church officials believed that what LaCuesta did was wrong but would not remove him.
The archdiocese said Thursday in a statement that it does not comment on pending litigation and referred to its December 2018 statement on the priest’s actions.
In that statement, the archdiocese said it acknowledged that “the family was hurt further by Father’s choice to share Church teaching on suicide, when the emphasis should have been placed more on God’s closeness to those who mourn.”
Last year’s statement also said that LaCuesta will not preach at funerals and will have his future homilies reviewed.
Suicide Lifeline: If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online.
Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.
Contributing: Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press; Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.