Woman paying respects at funeral

Rev. Don LaCuesta’s began his funeral homily for 18-year-old Maison Hullibarger last December by acknowledging the anguish of his parents.

But it only went downhill from there. 

After his initial statements, Rev. LaCuesta implied that Maison, who died by suicide, might not go to heaven. “I think that we must not call what is bad good, what is wrong right,” the clergyman expounded to shocked parish mourners in Temperance, Michigan. “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.”

A Shocking Eulogy

The problem is Jeffrey and Linda Hullibarger had made a conscious decision to keep their son's suicide secret except for close friends and relatives. Appalled by the suggestion that people ending their own lives was an affront to God, Linda Hullibarger sued LaCuesta, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Detroit, alleging his words irreparably harmed her already devastated family.

“That funeral was not for our son, not for our other kids, not for my family,” she told The Washington Post. “In my opinion, he made our son’s funeral about his own agenda.”

The lawsuit alleges that when the couple turned to their long-time parish for comfort, they'd specifically told LaCuesta they wanted the funeral to celebrate the life of their son - a University of Toledo freshman studying criminal justice - and to spread a positive message about being kind to others. LaCuesta accepted. Neither parents nor priest mentioned anything about how Maison died.

But then in front of the hundreds who gathered for the service, LaCuesta insisted God could forgive suicide as he did all sin, and could judge a whole life without considering only “the worst and last choice the person made.”

Mourners were visibly upset to learn that Maison had killed himself. But when his dad approached the pulpit and whispered that LaCuesta “please stop” talking about suicide, the priest continued, and refused to let the family either read their chosen scripture passages or even say any final words about their son. After hearing similar complaints about the priest's insensitivities from fellow parish members in attendance, the family met with Archbishop Allen Vigneron and Bishop Gerard Battersby. But even before they demanded LaCuesta’s removal, Bishop Battersby allegedly told her to “let it go.”

Ending the Suicide Stigma

For Melinda Moore, a co-lead of the Faith Communities Task Force at the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the problem is too many clergy lack the necessary training to deal with suicide and help bereaved family and friends. Homilies like LaCuesta’s reflect the stigma suicide still carries in faith communities, serving only to reinforce loved ones’ feelings of responsibility, shame and anguish.

"Saying that it’s a sin, it’s an act of the devil, imposing your own thinking on this and not really looking to your own church’s teaching on this,” she said, “is something that I think faith leaders need to not do.”

But then it's no secret that the Catholic Church has long held the belief that suicide contradicts the personal responsibility to protect the life God has given each of us, which explains why until the 1960s, people who killed themselves were not allowed to receive a Christian burial. In 1992, Pope John Paul II acknowledged that while suicide is “gravely contrary to the just love of self”, many who end their lives suffer mental illness.

 Justified Anger

There's plenty of room for outrage here. After all, what kind of compassionate human representative of an apparently merciful God would take such an inopportune moment to opine about religious scripture?

To take such a painful day for a community and make it about your own beliefs is a selfish betrayal - to put it mildly. And while the family approached their parish directly to request they handle the service, perhaps the parish should have sent someone a bit more sensitive to the needs of grieving families to perform the funeral ceremony.

Ultimately, painful ordeals like this can be avoided by simply having a trusted family friend or loved one get ordained online and officiate the ceremony themselves. That way, you know you’ve got a funeral officiant who will respect your family’s wishes, who you know you can trust, and who won’t open wounds when you desperately need to heal.

14 comments

  1. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

    These poor people, suffering a tragic loss only to have their wishes tossed aside by a so called spiritual leader in their community. The lack of empathy or respect shown by this Rev. is the kind of behavior not just bringing down their churches reputation but in general driving people away from any contact with the spiritual.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    I would have kicked that priest's @#$ right off of the altar, and out of that church, and then gone back in and officiated the funeral myself, until the police arrived, to arrest me. Many years ago I went to the funeral of the teenage daughter of a female friend of mine who committed suicide. Many of her teenage friends were at that funeral. I later learned that the preacher, Rev. Dowdy, didn't know the deceased, or her mother. I couldn't believe my ears as that man started preaching hellfire and brimstone to those children, and saying that girl went to Hell. Shortly after he started, while staring directly into his eyes, I burst into laughter, and laughed hysterically for several minutes, until I was sore. Then I got up and walked out of that service while still laughing. Her mother later thanked me.

  1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

    If there really is a heaven I know who will be there, and it won’t be the Priest.

    1. Lori Mongillo's Avatar Lori Mongillo

      So true, Lion and Carl. This guy is a few bricks short of a load, to put it mildly.

  1. Shawn Allen Hank's Avatar Shawn Allen Hank

    A man makes a judgment. Is he right or wrong? Maybe what the priest said was not tactful or appropriate. Maybe it was. Point is, this priest is a man, and men are fallible and finite beings. Hence, all human beings are not perfect. The victim here is the one who committed suicide, Maison Hullibarger.

    The purpose of this post is not to comment on Maison's eternity. To do so implies, that I know his judgment. Therefore, I would be equal to God, which I am not. The purpose is to post a reply to the three responses. Where two or more gather in his name, according to Christ, is church. Secular Humanism has infiltrated the early church and probably goes back to an early derivative out of Babylon or earlier. So, it is not the Word driving people away from church. It is secularity. We know society is secular, not Christian. So, why are we so upset when we see intolerance. The whole platform of Secular Humanism is intolerance toward God, Christ, Holy Spirit, angelic beings fallen or heavenly, the supernatural, the metaphysical and the paranormal. When a priest acts secular, why do you condemn his actions?

    You want kindness and respect, but you do not give it. The second response mentions potential threats of violence. Is that what your worldview stands for? Is that the best your worldview offers the world? Well, you are a day many days late and many dollars short my friend. There was violence inherent in society from the earliest known civilization of humans. All you add is what has been done in the name of evil for generations on end and generations to come. You do not offer the world anything original or creative, just more of the same.

    Remember, "only a remnant of God's chosen people" will make it in to heaven. What does that say about the rest of us? The odds are stacked against us. The Jews rejected their God and redeemer. We as the secular reject God. So, why should we care if a priest states what he believes is the truth? We cannot conveniently presuppose God to make a point because secularists do not believe in God. A man said something some feel is wrong. Well, gentlemen and ladies, there are comments made everyday regarding these articles from other worldviews including secularists, pagans etc. Yet, nobody stands up against their militant hate speech and intolerance. Perhaps, we all need to look into the mirror and reflect.

    1. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

      You say a lot of words but have no real substance in them, which is typical of zealots that recite from rote rather then speak from self formed thought.

      The simple fact is that this pathetic waste of humanity caused needless distress to others in the name of his deity. When a so called man of god fumbles, falters, and fails you do not put the blame on his humanity or lack there of, but on his faith and his god.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    Us good Pagans only stand up against the evil hate speech of evil christians.

    1. Shawn Allen Hank's Avatar Shawn Allen Hank

      Well, there you have it, Carl. However, you are wrong. A true Christian does not spread hate speech. It is contrary to their worldview, right. The common thread these blogs have in common is all the hate directed toward Christians. I live my life to not hate anyone. It is very difficult loving the unlovable. Perhaps, our common enemy is humanity. Human beings have done heinous atrocities in many names under many banners. So, Carl I leave you with a properly applied David Hume quote. Are human beings willing to prevent evil, but not able? Human beings are impotent or powerless against evil. Are human beings able to prevent evil but not willing? Human beings are malevolent. Are human beings able and willing to prevent evil? Why is there any evil?

      1. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

        Ah David Hume one of those no nothing western so called philosophers far to ignorant of the wider world and history of actual philosophy from the actual seekers of enlightenment from thousands of years prior in the eastern lands.

        You use evil as if evil is something real, its just a construct not an inherent truth. There is certainly the truly amoral. As we recognize anything we would not want done to us such as violence, imprisonment and slavery. Hence why the founding fathers of the U.S. cited life, liberty, and personal happiness. To deprive anyone of these 3 things without just cause, such as taking anothers life in self defense is amoral no matter the laws of the land. However the act of taking a life for any reason is certainly a negative one as well explained in buddahism. Now understand there is a distinct difference between amoral and negative.

        Now lets use the big evil of The Nazi and their camps, something just about all non bigots can agree was horrific and wrong, certainly amoral, and very negative.

        Now for all the horror that was done, the lives lost, and people who suffered, tremendous positive was born out of all that negative. The so called doctor of death and the work he did especially that involving twins, and stressing the body right up to killing it gave insight into science and medicine that to this day echos down through history. For every life lost countless lives have gone on to be saved by the research that required the most amoral and horrific of abuses to another possible.

        a thousand years from now few will care about those lives lost, as we today can talk about ancient battles and their losses with no real sentiment, however those breakthroughs in science and tech made by the great villains of history will as long as civilization continues to go on and progress grow brighter even as we see those from history who had the break throughs that lead to our betterment as a species live on in their great works.

        Evil simply doesnt exist. not as a no nothing arrogant anglo brit imagined it anyways. True evil is often little in impact and rarely seen by society, the monster clad in the skin of a father that goes into the childs bedroom at night. Only a single child suffers, but their suffering is beyond anything those lucky enough to have loving protective parents will know.

        In other words, yeah people can be all sorts. That doesnt mean we have to forgive and give a free pass when someone crosses certain lines of civility. And anyone for any reason talking in a way that offends the family and friends mourning a lost loved one deserves to at the least become a social pariah, and let me put it this way, if it was at a funeral for someone I loved, they best have a god who will intervene on their behalf to be safe from my wrath which is far worse then that of any imaginary entity.

  1. Roger Boni's Avatar Roger Boni

    That's just wrong. Obviously someone who takes his/her own life is going through one hell of a lot of mental anguish. Yes, suicide is bad for business, unless you're an undertaker. But have a heart Mr Jones. You ain't perfect and either am I. maybe we need to study people who have gone through all sorts of hell and not only STAYED ALIVE, but THRIVED. There is a black belt martial arts instructor who, on the verge of suicide, walked into a karate dojo (I won't say which one. mental illness is bad for business) They took him on as a student, and became one of the 5% of people who earn a black belt. This fellow also studied Combatatives, Defendu, and many other things and is now an instructor. He is also a Minister of ULC. He does not concern himself with "protecting the unborn" or helping multitudes on the other side of the globe. If he can only reach one or two miserable middle class sons of bitches and show them a better way to live-including training in dating and attraction for men-his mission will be complete.He is me.

    1. rev.heidianne's Avatar rev.heidianne

      I'm very glad you didn't kill yourself. I lost 2 very special friends of mine. I wasn't a Reverend for each of them, but I was very close to the one who died when we were both 31. Even though she and I weren't legally married, I had the Rabbi know that her cause of death was terminal depression. He understood what I meant and gave me a big hug. He mentioned at the "sermon" that it's more important to focus on what a wonderful person she was , as a daughter, sister, wife, and friend. He then mentioned for all of us to please take it seriously that depression is real and treating it isn't a sin, or an act of weakness. On the contrary it's a sign of strength. He didn't find fault with us, but did say, if anyone is seriously suicidal please get help, whether it's from a therapist, hotline, doctor etc. He said too many clerics focus on the person's soul, and not on how much the person's hurting. I decided when I became a minister 24 years later, I made a decision that even though I stopped being Jewish for many years, I decided that this particular Rabbi, is a great example of what a cleric should be. Rabbi means teacher, and He definitely taught me. I wasn't a minister yet, but I did tell him, exactly what I wrote here. I forgot his name, but G-d bless you Rabbi. Shalom and hugs. Rev. HeidiAnne aka Hannah (Chana)

    2. rev.heidianne's Avatar rev.heidianne

      That's wonderful about your accomplishments Roger, and how you were able to make a such a sad experience and turn into a positive one. Could you please explain what you meant that if you could reach 1 or 2 miserable middle class sons of bitches and show them a better way to live including training, ( I think you meant martial arts) feel free to correct me. I'm confused though what about the dating and attraction to men? Please explain, no judgments ok.

  1. Joshua Daniel Browning's Avatar Joshua Daniel Browning

    So now krisjans are suing over truth? Not everyone according to the horrible krisjan belief system is going to heaven. unless they are catholic and can purchase their way into heaven.

  1. Brien's Avatar Brien

    Let me remove religion as much as I can from this response. What is really on the table here is very simple. 1. Commen sense. Something that the clergy clearly did not exercise. 2. Being a decent human. Well, a big fail on this as well. Please, keep all of the "bible " quotes out of this, none of them can defend this. At the very least the clergy owes an apology to the family, and after that never have contact with them again.

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