A Michigan mother is attempting to have a priest removed from parish ministry after he, during her son’s funeral Mass, repeatedly made reference to the young man’s having taken his life.
Linda Hullibarger filed a lawsuit against the Rev. Don LaCuesta, the Archdiocese of Detroit and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Michigan, requesting compensatory damages for their family’s pain and suffering as well as the removal of the priest from ministry so this “outrageous conduct” doesn’t happen again.
After Ms. Hullibarger and her husband Jeff lost their son, Maison, to suicide — they told Rev. LaCuesta during a Dec. 4 meeting they wanted his funeral to be “about family.”
“We wanted him to talk about loving one another, lifting one another up and being kind to one another. That’s what we wanted the homily to be about,” she told CNN with a week of the funeral, adding they never told Rev. LaCuesta how Maison died.
The funeral-goers — including Maison’s five siblings and his classmates — were shocked when Rev. LaCuesta took to the pulpit and started using Maison’s homily to condemn suicide as a sin.
“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,” Rev. LaCuesta said in a copy of the script provided to CNN. “The finality of suicide makes this all the worse.”
The Hullibargers said during a CNN interview last year those in attendance at the funeral were horrified at the priest’s remarks.
“I looked at Jeff and thought, ‘What is he doing?’ ” Ms. Hullibarger said.
“We have five other kids. Nobody could believe it,” Mr. Hullibarger said. “I looked at the parish, and everyone had the same look on their faces.”
Mr. Hullibarger attempted to intervene by approaching the pulpit and asking for Rev. LaCuesta to stop his address.
“After the first few times that he said that word (suicide), I approached the pulpit and I told him, I whispered in his ear, ‘Father, please stop,'” he said. “He didn’t miss a beat. He kept going. He said that word another handful of times. It made the worst day of our lives more worse.”
“He basically called our son a sinner in front of everyone,” Ms. Hullibarger said. “We had no idea that he was going to do this. … We’ve been lifelong members of the church.”
To make things worse, Mr. Hullibarger said Rev. LaCuesta abruptly concluded the funeral instead of allowing the parents to give their remarks.
“He proceeded to end the funeral, and the music started,” Ms. Hullibarger said. “We had to stop the funeral director because everyone just stood up.”
The funeral director stopped the organist and the parents were able to deliver a message about their son.
“He has had a great impact on the lives of many people. Passionate and opinionated, that’s what we loved about him,” they said. “Our family’s message for you today: Please be kind to one another. Reach out to those you care about. Show sincerity in your actions. And love forever, unconditionally.”
While they received an outpouring of support from their friends, including $23,000 raised through a GoFundMe, they said they’re suing to have the priest removed from the church and unable to hurt anyone like they were.
“We just don’t feel that the consequences are where they need to be right now,” the parents said. “We asked him (the archbishop) to remove the priest from the priesthood.”
The archdiocese apologized for Rev. LaCuesta’s service in December, saying he made “an unbearable situation … even more difficult” and would have “all 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,” the archdiocese said. “This assistance will involve getting help from professionals — on human, spiritual and pastoral levels — to probe how and why he failed to effectively address the grief of the family in crisis.”
The Archdiocese of Detroit did not respond to The Washington Times’ request for comment.
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