Rector: Mass of reparation offered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral after ‘scandalous’ funeral

(OSV News) — Two days after St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City was filled with mourners for an irreverent “homecoming” funeral for a prominent activist who identified as transgender, the cathedral’s rector acknowledged that many people “have let us know they share our outrage over the scandalous behavior” that took place at the service.

Father Enrique Salvo said in a Feb. 17 statement that at New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan’s “directive, we have offered an appropriate Mass of Reparation.”

“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,” Father Salvo said.

Hundreds were on hand Feb. 15 to commemorate actress and author Cecilia Gentili, an Argentine native who had battled sexual abuse from age six and trafficking, as well as homelessness, heroin addiction and incarceration. The 52-year-old died Feb. 6 of unnamed causes at the Brooklyn, New York, home Gentili shared with partner Peter Scotto.

Gentili was the founder and principal consultant of Trans Equity Consulting and an advocate for the decriminalization of sex work.

Ceyenne Doroshow — founder and director of GLITS Inc. (Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society), organized the funeral. She told The New York Times that she approached St. Patrick’s since “it is an icon, just like (Gentili).”

Doroshow also told the newspaper that she had not advised pastoral staff that Gentili identified as transgender, saying, “I kind of kept it under wraps.”

The New York Times noted that “Mass cards and a picture near the altar showed a haloed Ms. Gentili surrounded by the Spanish words for ‘transvestite,’ ‘whore,’ ‘blessed’ and ‘mother’ above the text of Psalm 25.” Many mourners, the newspaper said, sported attire that included “glittery miniskirts and halter tops, fishnet stockings, sumptuous fur stoles and at least one boa sewed from what appeared to be $100 bills.”

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

Father Salvo’s statement was released by Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York, who told OSV News Feb. 16 that “the cathedral is a functioning church that celebrates Mass, baptisms, weddings and funerals. And if somebody calls and … they’re trying to arrange a funeral for a Catholic, one assumes they are a Catholic. If the church can accommodate them, they try to do so.”

“We don’t conduct background checks on people who come to us looking to have a funeral,” said Zwilling, who said he had not been present at the cathedral during the ceremony.

According to a November 2023 interview, Gentili, a self-professed atheist, had been “reexamining (a) relationship with religion for a long time,” and had come “from a family of so many different faiths” that prevented Gentili from feeling “attached to any of them.”

In livestream video from the event uploaded to Trans Equity’s YouTube channel, Maryknoll Father Edward Dougherty, who presided at what Doroshow said in introductory remarks was a “homegoing service,” blessed Gentili’s body with holy water according to the opening rites of the Mass of Christian burial. 

Following the entrance hymn of “Amazing Grace,” Father Dougherty surveyed the full church, welcomed the crowd and said, “Except on Easter Sunday, we don’t really have a crowd that is this well turned out, you know?”

He laughed and gave a thumbs-up sign as attendees burst into loud cheers and applause, waving and delivering a standing ovation.

As the camera displays the crowd from the back of the church, a male voice can then be heard on the livestream, apparently speaking to Father Dougherty and saying, “What we’ll do is move to a funeral service — no Mass — so after that, we’ll do the final commendation and we’re done.” 

A second male voice — presumably that of Father Dougherty — can be heard responding, “OK, yeah.”

A similar exchange can be heard following the Liturgy of the Word, during which the second reader gave a slight flounce while ascending to the lectern, saying, “We still going to show up as us.”

Father Dougherty’s homily, which articulated the Catholic perspective of death in light of Jesus Christ’s resurrection and the sacrament of baptism, drew applause.

A woman who read the prayers of the faithful in both English and Spanish from her cellphone implored that Gentili might be “nourished at the table of the Savior.”

“May Cecilia’s community be lived and received and seen by each other, and have access to life-affirming health care and God’s protection with secure housing,” she concluded emphatically, adding to another round of applause, “We pray to our Lord Jesus Christ, who was full of love.”

Several personal tributes then followed, including a tearful one from Scotto, who turned to Father Dougherty and said, “For those of you who didn’t know her, she really was an angel.”

Doroshow lauded Gentili’s work to ensure “that sex workers are free,” declaring, “Y’all may have heard that Jesus ministers to all” and leading those present in a loud call-and-response chant of “Cecilia, Cecilia, Cecilia.”

Another individual, speaking in Spanish, described Gentili as “esta puta, esta gran puta, la Santa Cecilia, la madre de todas las putas … danos la fuerza y el coraje” (“this bitch, this grand bitch, St. Cecilia, the mother of all bitches … give us strength and courage”).

Following the “Ave Maria,” sung by a cathedral cantor, an individual emerged from the pews to spontaneously dance before the casket and then down the aisle as attendees applauded.

Male voices on the livestream are then heard saying, “We’ll do the Our Father and then the final commendation,” after which the cantor intoned the Latin commendation chant “In Paradisum.”

Zwilling, who told OSV News Feb. 16 that the organizers had “requested a Mass,” said he was “sure” that “for every funeral that has ever been held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral — yesterday’s funeral or (that of) any archbishop of New York or anyone else who’s ever been buried from there — they’ve all been funerals for sinners.”

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