A family stricken with a child’s suicide is choosing to vent their grief and pain on the Catholic priest who conducted the funeral, possibly setting a precedent for legal action when the church does not meet people’s emotional expectations.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in Wayne County, Mich. on behalf of the teen’s mother, Linda Hullibarger, names as defendants the archdiocese, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish and the Rev. Don LaCuesta. The Rev. LaCuesta spoke of suicide in his homily at the funeral of Maison Hullibarger, 18, and Mrs. Hullibarger took that to mean he was questioning whether her son would go to heaven.
Hullibarger and her husband, Jeff, said they met with the priest in December 2018 to arrange services for their son, and specified that they wanted the priest to give a positive message that celebrated his life, the complaint states.
The suit accuses LaCuesta of instead making his subsequent sermon into a message regarding suicide, questioning whether the teen would go to heaven, according to The Toledo Blade.
The text of the homily does not explicitly state that the deceased would not go to heaven.
The Bedford, Michigan, family had not disclosed the nature of the youth’s death to the priest, according to the suit.
‘No parent, no sibling, no family member, should ever, ever have to sit through what we sat through. And it’s happened before. When you’re already beyond devastated, why would you make it even worse? No words can describe that (because) you don´t think you could feel any worse,’ Hullibarger added in the statement released by Charles E. Boyk Law Offices LLC.
Suicide has been considered a sin 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, Hullibarger 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.
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After following the link to read the priest’s homily, I can see how some would interpret his message as less than sympathetic. As a pastor, I found his message to be a very good one. But I think his approach missed the mark of what a funeral homily should be, which is to proclaim the Gospel in a way that brings comfort truthfully. Otherwise, as a pastor and as survivor of a parent who committed suicide, I found it to be an great little treatise on the subject of suicide. The priest did not question whether the her son would go to heaven; he challenged those who say that suicide is a sin that cannot or will not be forgiven by God. Simply put, that’s an idea nowhere to be found in the Holy Scriptures. One who says it is unforgivable is to limiting the scope of God’s grace to reach beyond the grave. I find that this story speaks to the big problem of Biblical illiteracy that exists in the Church Universal.