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Archdiocese of New York Condemns the Funeral of a Trans Activist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

A senior leader at the seat of the Archdiocese claimed it was deceived into hosting the service.

Hundreds of people filled the pews of St. Patrick’s Cathedral last week to remember Cecilia Gentili. (Laura Oliverio/CNN via CNN Newsource)
 

(CNN) — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York condemned the funeral of a trans activist that was held last week in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, expressing outrage over what it called “scandalous behavior.”

More than 1,000 people filled the pews of the revered New York cathedral on February 15 to honor the legendary trans activist Cecilia Gentili, who died on February 6 at 52. Gentili was a pillar of New York’s trans community, as well as a fierce advocate for sex workers and people with HIV/AIDS. Though she grew up attending Catholic services in her home country of Argentina, she was also an avowed atheist.

Friends and family members of Gentili characterized last week’s service as “iconic” and “historic,” with funeral organizers saying they believed Gentili was the first trans person to have a funeral at the cathedral. Mourners showed up in feathery red dresses, fishnet stockings, and lace veils, and the community prayed for God to protect trans people with health care and housing. In one eulogy, Gentili — a former sex worker — was remembered as “Saint Cecilia. Mother of all whores.”

But after videos from the funeral and news reports from CNN and other outlets began circulating online, some prominent Catholics and conservative groups responded with backlash. A senior leader at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of New York, said after the fact that it was deceived into hosting the service.

CNN reached out to the Archdiocese of New York on Friday for comment, before it publicly condemned the funeral, but did not receive a response.

“The Cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic, and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way,” Rev. Enrique Salvo, the rector at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, said in a statement over the weekend.

“That such a scandal occurred at ‘America’s Parish Church’ makes it worse; that it took place as Lent—the annual forty-day struggle with the forces of sin and darkness—was beginning, is a potent reminder of how much we need prayer, reparation, repentance, grace, and mercy to which this holy season invites us.”

Rev. Salvo added that the cathedral offered a mass of reparation at the direction of Cardinal Timothy Dolan to atone for the funeral.

Funeral organizers told CNN that they chose to honor Gentili at St. Patrick’s Cathedral because they felt its grandeur was a fitting tribute to her legacy — she was remembered at her funeral for championing the most marginalized peoples in society.

Ceyenne Doroshow, one of the organizers, said in an interview with the Washington Post that she told the cathedral that Gentili was “a sex worker advocate, an icon and an activist” and encouraged them to look her up. She added that the house of worship did not ask about Gentili’s gender identity or sexuality and that she did not proactively disclose it to them.

“If a cisgender person’s family organizes their funeral, does their family tell the church that they were cis?” Doroshow told the Washington Post. “If not, why is that being asked of us?”

Gentili’s family also sharply criticized the archdiocese’s response, characterizing her funeral as a “historic defiance of the Church’s hypocrisy and anti-trans hatred.”

“We bestow sainthood upon Cecilia, for her life’s work, for how she ministered, mothered, and loved all people regardless of HIV, immigration, or employment status,” a statement from the family read. “Her heart and hands reached those the sanctimonious Church continues to belittle, oppress, and chastise, and she changed the material conditions for countless people, including unhoused people and those who needed healthcare.

The statement continued, “The only deception present at St. Patrick’s Cathedral is that it claims to be a welcoming place for all.”

Despite the outrage from the archdiocese and some Catholics, other worshippers didn’t seem to take issue with Gentili’s service. Michael Horlan, a lawyer from Ireland who attended Sunday’s services at the cathedral, told the New York Post that “Jesus welcomed everybody. He didn’t say if you’re one thing or another, you’re outside the tent.”

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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