Rev. Don LaCuesta, a priest at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, Michigan, is now under fire for suggesting at the funeral of an 18-year-old college student that he might not go to Heaven because he took his own life.
Jeff and Linda Hullibarger, parents of Maison Hullibarger, who committed suicide on Dec. 4, are now calling for LaCuesta to be fired for traumatizing his friends and family at his funeral on Dec. 8, the Toledo Blade reported.
“It’s not OK,” Jeff Hullibarger told the publication. “He needs to be held accountable.”
According to The New York Times, the Hullibargers had expected uplifting words for the friends and relatives attending the funeral of their son at the church where all six of their children were baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church, but said what they got from LaCuesta’s pulpit was condemnation.
"It was his time to tell everybody what he thought of suicide, [and] we couldn't believe what he was saying," Maison's father told the Detroit Free Press. “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. He said 'suicide' upwards of six times.”
When some people started walking out of the funeral crying, including boys who were his son’s age, the bereaved father walked to the pulpit and whispered to the priest, "Father, please stop."
LaCuesta, however, would not relent.
"People told me there was almost a smirk on his face," Jeff Hullibarger said.
"We wanted him to celebrate how Maison lived, not how he died," Maison's mother said.
In a statement that has since been shared widely, the Archdiocese of Detroit apologized that LaCuesta failed to bring comfort to the family. It was also noted that the priest was suspended from funeral duties and would undergo additional training and review.
"After some reflection, the presider agrees that the family was not served as they should have been served. For the foreseeable future, he will not be preaching at funerals and he will have his 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.
"We have been in contact with the family since learning of this situation, and we will continue to offer our support going forward."
As many Christians, including pastors, have been victims of suicide, some have been challenging the enduring "myth" that suicide victims are condemned to Hell. Kayla Stoecklein, widow of late Inland Hills Church Lead Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, who died after attempting suicide at his California church in August, wrote on a blog, "This is a common misbelief about suicide and it breaks my heart ... I believe with 100% of my soul that Andrew is in heaven. Andrew had a real, raw, authentic, and infectious relationship with Jesus. Thousands of people will be in heaven because of him."
Kay Warren, best-selling author and Bible teacher who co-founded Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, with her husband, Rick, also supports the view that suicide doesn't condemn a Christian to Hell.
Warren's son, Matthew, fatally shot himself at the age of 27 in April 2013, after a long and private struggle with mental illness.
"God's promised us that Matthew's salvation was safe and secure. Matthew gave his life to Jesus when he was a little boy. And so, I'm absolutely 100 percent confident based on the work of Jesus that Matthew is in Heaven," she told The Christian Post in an earlier interview.