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Parents Say Priest Ruined Their Son's Funeral, Called Him A "Sinner"

Hullibarger Family / 1st Lt. Rusty Ridley - U.S. Air Force

Grieving parents from Michigan say the priest who presided over their son's funeral only made things worse, after he condemned their child and "basically" called him "a sinner" multiple times.

Jeff and Linda Hullibarger are still grappling with the death by suicide of their 18-year-old son, Maison, earlier this month.

But at the funeral for the University of Toledo freshman and football player last week, they say Reverand Don LaCuesta criticized Maison for taking his own life, bringing up his suicide again and again in front of hundreds of mourners.

Catholic Church
The teen's angry parents say the priest strayed from prepared remarks to criticize their son.Joe Ravi - Wikimedia

"I looked at Jeff and thought 'What is he doing?'" Linda remembered in an interview with CNN.

"We have five other kids, nobody could believe it. I looked at the parish, and everyone had the same look on their faces."

Maison's father actually walked up to the pulpit at one point, and whispered, "Father, please stop." But the priest refused to listen.

"He didn't miss a beat," Jeff said. "He said that word another handful of time. It made the worst day of our lives more worse."

Maison Hullibarger
Maison's parents wanted to remember his as the bright and athletic student.Hullibarger Family

In a copy of his homily, LaCuesta wrote 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."

"The finality of suicide makes this all the worse," he added. "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."

Jeff told the Detroit Free Press that LaCuesta "almost had a smirk on his face" as he read his hurtful remarks.

And instead of allowing the parents to deliver their own remarks afterword, as they had planned, LaCuesta tried to end the ceremony by signaling the organist to play.

"We had to stop the funeral director because everyone just stood up," Linda said.

Maison's father actually asked the priest to stop, but he refused to listen.Kisistvan77 - Pixabay

The Hullibargers, who say they are "lifelong members of the church," were stunned.

"He basically called our son a sinner in front of everyone," Linda said. "We had no idea that he was going to do this."

The couple say when they met with LaCuesta earlier this month, and spoke with him about what they wanted to hear from his homily, they asked for a message about family, love, support, and kindness.

The called the eulogy LaCuesta delivered instead "unprofessional and unacceptable."

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

Maison Hullibarger
A former coach of Maison's, who was barred from the funeral, crashed the event and added to his parents' distress.Hullibarger Family

Adding to their pain, there was another difficult moment at the ceremony when Maison's high school football coach, Jeffrey Wood, showed up at the funeral.

The Hullibarger's accuse Wood of bullying Maison and their other sons, and had asked him not to attend the ceremony. They had to ask him to leave.

Wood was later fired from his coaching job at Bedford High School, after writing a social media post implying he was being "blamed" for Maison's "shortcomings."

"This tragedy is not about me or you," Wood wrote. "It's about looking in the mirror as a human being and being real and honest with yourself."

Archdiocese of Detroit
The priest has agreed to undergo more training, but the Hullibargers want him to lose his job over the debacle.Archdiocese of Detroit

The Archdiocese of Detroit told CNN it had apologized to the Hullibarger family, and that LaCuesta had agreed "to pursue the assistance he needs in order to become a more effective minister in these difficult situations."

But the enraged couple say they "don't feel that the consequences are where they need to be right now," and have asked for LaCuesta to be removed from the priesthood.

As for their son, they were still able to remember Maison as "a great person" at the ceremony, and say LaCuesta's unfortunate choice can't tarnish his memory.

"He was just an unbelievable son," Linda said.

The Hullibarger's have a GoFundMe page set up to help cover the "financially devastating" cost of Maison's funeral.

If you or someone you know is struggling, you can get help for free, 24 hours a day, by calling the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

[H/T: CNN, the Detroit Free Press]

We're keeping Maison's family in our thoughts and prayers. May he rest in peace.

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