"A priest at a funeral is not preaching to the dead. He's preaching to the living. And while one ought not in a sermon condemn the soul of the person being buried— no one wants that— a priest shouldn't dance around the immorality of the issue at stake."
Father Pietrzyk acknowledged the complicating factor that the manner of the young man's death was, according to the couple, not widely known before the funeral.
"If this were not widely known in the community, and the couple wanted to keep the details of this less public, I do think a priest should respect that," he said.
"But if this was widely known in the community that he committed suicide, I think the priest has a moral obligation to touch on the subject. So it just depends on the circumstances of how widely known it was."
He said he always teaches his students that when preaching a funeral, the priest ought to respect the wishes of the family as much as possible.
The family of a deceased person has no strict civil or canonical rights to compel a priest to preach on a certain topic or not to preach on others, he stressed.
"One doesn't preach the truth that the family gives; one preaches the truth of the Church," he said.
"That can involve taking into account the desires and wishes of the family, but it always requires taking on, first and foremost, the mind of Christ and the teachings of the Church."
Father Pietrzyk said he observes many priests, and even some bishops, fostering a sense of the laity having the right to "control" the liturgy, especially in the context of wedding and funeral Masses. But, he said, the Mass does not belong to "the people," but to the Church.
"It's the Church's expression of prayer and grief for the couple," he said.
"It doesn't mean that one ignores the family...one should listen to them attentively. But the wishes of the family cannot supersede the mind of the Church with regards to these matters."
The Archdiocese of Detroit released a statement on the matter Dec. 17, 2018.
“Our hope is always to bring comfort to situations of great pain, through funeral services centered on the love and healing power of Christ. Unfortunately, that did not happen in this case. We understand that an unbearable situation was made even more difficult, and we are sorry,” the statement read.
“We...know the family was hurt further by Father’s choice to share Church teaching on suicide, when the emphasis should have been placed more on God’s closeness to those who mourn.”
The archdiocese also announced that for the “foreseeable future,” LaCuesta will not be preaching at funerals and he will have all other homilies reviewed by a priest mentor. In addition, the archdiocese said, he has agreed to “pursue the assistance he needs in order to become a more effective minister in these difficult situations.”
The Hullibarger family has said that LaCuesta tried to keep Maison's parents from giving a eulogy for their son during the Mass, even though “that had been agreed on well in advance,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
The archdiocese has not commented on the allegation that LaCuesta agreed to allow the Hullibargers to eulogize their son, and then changed his mind.
The Church’s norms officially prohibit the practice of giving eulogies during a funeral Mass, but Monsignor Dempsey said the Church’s liturgical norms offer the possibility of a member or a friend of the family to speak in remembrance of the deceased following the prayer after communion and before the final commendation begins.
He said the possibility of offering a “remembrance” is often determined by diocesan statute.
“The Catholic funeral is not a ‘celebration of life’ of the deceased, but a celebration of the baptized believer's participation in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Dempsey explained.
“The words of ‘remembrance’ should be brief and should focus on how the deceased bore witness in his [or] her life to what we profess in the paschal mystery.”
The funeral norms for the Archdiocese of Detroit acknowledge the possibility of a ‘remembrance’ at Mass in keeping with the OCF norms, but emphasizes that “those words should not be a eulogy.” The Detroit norms also state that the Vigil for the Deceased, or the memorial luncheon or reception that often follows the funeral, is an appropriate place for family and friends to offer their own words or stories.
Whether or not it was a ‘remembrance’ at the Mass that LaCuesta promised the family rather than a eulogy, and whether or not LaCuesta later tried to prevent them from doing so, remains unclear.
Following the funeral, the Hullibargers had complained to the Archdiocese of Detroit, asking that LaCuesta be removed.
The Hullibargers said in the lawsuit that they were granted a meeting with Archbishop Allen Vigneron after the funeral, but claim that the archbishop cut the meeting short when the mother began discussing Father LaCuesta.
Father Pietrzyk also said that in his view, the civil lawsuit should is not likely to succeed because “no court, not in Michigan, not in federal court, and certainly not the Supreme Court, is going to sustain this kind of tort action, and they're certainly never going to require the Church to remove a particular priest.”
"The couple might have legitimate disagreements with the homily and the way the funeral was treated, but the idea that this is a legal matter, the idea that the courts should be getting involved in this, is just contrary to all of the Constitutional precedence of the US. It's not going to go anywhere, and nor should it," he commented.
"Even if one is sympathetic to [the couple's] plight, as one should be sympathetic to the plight of any parent who's lost a child, the question of the civil, legal rights is another matter. So I do think one can and must criticize the civil lawsuit, even if one has a great deal of sorrow and sympathy for the couple."
Father LaCuesta declined to comment to CNA on the ongoing case, referring questions to the archdiocese.