Detroit Priest Muzzled for Homily on Suicide

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by Stephen Wynne  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  December 17, 2018   

Fr. Don LaCuesta barred from preaching at funerals 'for foreseeable future'

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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - In the archdiocese of Detroit, a faithful priest is being muzzled for reinforcing Church teaching on suicide.

Father Don LaCuesta, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, has been slammed by archdiocesan officials for the content of his funeral homily for 18-year-old Maison Hullibarger, who took his own life on Dec. 4.

In the wake of their son's suicide, Jeff and Linda Hullibarger met with Fr. LaCuesta to discuss the particulars of his funeral. Reportedly, they told LaCuesta they wanted the service to focus on family and love.


Father LaCuesta mentioned the love of God 11 times in his homily. But, in the context of Church teaching, he also acknowledged Maison's suicide.

"I think that 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," LaCuesta said.

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Maison Hullibarger

"Our lives are not our own," he continued. "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."

"The finality of suicide makes this all the worse," Fr. LaCuesta said. "You cannot make things right again. Neither can Maison. And this is much of the pain of it all. Things are left unresolved, even if it felt to Maison like this was the only way to resolve things."

"You want to turn the clock back and say, 'Please don't give up. We can work through this pain together,'" LaCuesta added. "But now you will have to work through this pain by yourselves, or with those close to you now who will need to lean on you even as you lean on them."

"We wanted him to talk about loving one another, lifting one another up and being kind to one another," Linda later told reporters. 

"Not one word out of his mouth was about what we asked and what we talked about," Jeff said. "It was unprofessional and unacceptable."

Because of the all-embracing sacrifice of Christ on the cross God can have mercy on any sin. Yes, because of his mercy, God can forgive suicide and heal what has been broken.

In reinforcing Church teaching on suicide, Fr. LaCuesta did emphasize God's mercy:

Can God forgive and heal this? Yes, God CAN forgive even the taking of one's own life. ... Although God doesn't dangle his mercy like a carrot, waiting for us to ask for it in order to receive it, we do have to believe in our hearts, express with our words, and show in our actions that it is always there. God wants nothing but our salvation but he will never force himself on us, he will not save us without us. That's how much he loves us. Because of the all-embracing sacrifice of Christ on the cross God can have mercy on any sin. Yes, because of his mercy, God can forgive suicide and heal what has been broken.
 
Because God is merciful he makes allowance for the spiritual, mental, and emotional despair that leads to suicide. God is able to read the heart, to know the whole truth of a person's life, and thereby to pass sentence with mercy. God knows something we must discipline ourselves to do in these moments — he knows not to judge a person's entire life on the basis of the worst and last choice the person made. God can look at the totality of a human being's life and celebrate all the good that came from it, even while taking seriously the tragic choice that ended everything. And then he shows his mercy and love in ways beyond our limited understanding. 

Beset by sorrow at the loss of their son, the Hullibargers recoiled at the very mention of their son's suicide. They complained to the Detroit chancery, demanding Fr. LaCuesta be laicized; they're also seeking a face-to-face meeting with Abp. Allen Vigneron.

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Jeff and Linda Hullibarger

In response to the complaint, the archdiocese issued an apology: "We understand that an unbearable situation was made even more difficult, and we are sorry." Officials have suspended Fr. LaCuesta from preaching at funerals, and pledged that "he will have all other homilies reviewed by a priest mentor."

According to the archdiocesan statement, "After some reflection," Fr. LaCuesta "agrees that the family was not served as they should have been served" and has agreed to seek "the assistance he needs in order to become a more effective minister in these difficult situations."

"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 said.

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