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Archdiocese apologizes after Michigan priest condemns teen who killed himself

The family of Maison Hullibarger said some people at his funeral were so upset that they left the room in tears.
Linda and Jeff Hullibarger
Linda and Jeff Hullibargervia WDIV

The Archdiocese of Detroit said a priest is no longer allowed to speak at funerals after he infuriated the family of a teenager who killed himself by raising the question in a sermon of whether people who die by suicide can be granted God’s forgiveness.

The Rev. Don LaCuesta's homily at the Dec. 8 funeral for Maison Hullibarger, 18, who died on Dec. 4, has sparked outrage from the teen's family. According to the teen's father, Jeff Hullibarger, LaCuesta condemned his son instead of celebrating his life, The Detroit Free Press reports.

In a copy of the homily, released Monday by the archdiocese, LaCuesta told the crowd of mourners that Christians believe "that salvation belongs to Jesus Christ" and "there is hope in eternity even for those who take their own lives."

"Having said that, 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," he said.

Maison Hullibargervia WDIV

LaCuesta added that because God is forgiving 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," he said.

Hullibarger told the Detroit Free Press that he asked LaCuesta to stop speaking during the funeral, but the priest continued to “to tell everybody what he thought of suicide.”

Hullibarger said some people were so upset over the sermon, they left the room in tears. Calls by NBC News to the family for comment were not immediately returned.

Following the backlash, the Archdiocese of Detroit said in a statement that LaCuesta tried to "offer a message of confidence in salvation."

They also said the priest will not be preaching at funerals for the "foreseeable future" and has to have all other homilies reviewed by another priest.

“He, unfortunately, did not display appropriate sensitivity to the situation, which is why he is accepting our assistance to address this issue,” a spokeswoman said.

Suicide has long been a controversial topic in Catholicism. A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Detroit told NBC News that it is a “complex” subject and pointed to Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching that states, in part, suicide “contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life” but says people “should not despair eternal salvation” for someone who dies by suicide.

LaCuesta's remarks weren't the only thing to upset the family. Jeff Hullibarger told the Detroit Free Press that his son's high school football coach Jeff Wood — who they accused of "bullying" kids on the team — showed up to the funeral when they had told him not to come.

When Wood was kicked out of the service, he allegedly lashed out at the grieving family on Facebook, saying they blamed him for the teen's suicide.

"I’m your fall guy. This is how society is when things go not as planned. We blame others for our own shortcomings," Wood wrote, according to the Toledo Blade, which noted the post was later deleted.

The superintendent for Bedford Public Schools, where Wood worked for 11 years, responded to the post in a statement on its website saying the coach was "no longer affiliated in any way with the Bedford football program."

If you or a loved one are looking for help, please call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.