Parents demand removal of priest who criticized son's death

DETROIT — The parents of a Michigan teenager who died by suicide will ask the local archdiocese to remove the priest who questioned whether their son would go to heaven during his funeral.

Jeff and Linda Hullibarger told the Detroit Free Press that they plan to meet with Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron on Saturday.

The couple said the Rev. Don LaCuesta criticized their 18-year-old son , Maison Hullibarger, while giving a sermon at his Dec. 8 funeral.

"He was up there condemning our son, pretty much calling him a sinner (and wondering) if he had repented enough to make it to heaven," said Linda Hullibarger, Maison's mother.

The couple wants LaCuesta to be removed as pastor of their church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Temperance, which is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Detroit. They plan to share with the archdiocese letters they received from others sharing complaints about LaCuesta and his funeral sermons.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit apologized to the family about LaCuesta's conduct at the funeral, acknowledging the hurt caused by his "choice to share church teaching on suicide."

Death by suicide has been considered sinful by the Catholic Church and other religions for centuries, but the church has softened its stance in recent decades.

The Detroit archdiocese released a statement following Maison Hullibarger's funeral, saying that LaCuesta won't preach at funerals "for the foreseeable future." But archdiocese officials said there are no plans to remove LaCuesta from his role as pastor.

He celebrated mass at the church this past Sunday with his homilies reviewed by a superior, according to Holly Fournier, an archdiocese spokeswoman. But the Hullibargers decided against attending.

"We're kind of soured to the whole religion thing," Jeff Hullibarger said.