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A trans activist's funeral at St. Patrick's created lots of controversy but one thing got missed

Reaction to the controversy over a trans activist's funeral at the most famous Catholic cathedral in the US has been loud and abundant. It has also been very superficial.

Last week a funeral mass was celebrated in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral for Cecilia Gentili, a transgender activist and avowed atheist. The funeral took place on the day after Ash Wednesday, a holy day marking the beginning of the Church’s solemn season of Lent. 

Video of the funeral soon went viral, including parts of a friend’s eulogy delivered from the cathedral’s pulpit lauding the deceased as "St. Cecilia, Mother of all whores," to cheers of approval from the more than one thousand people in attendance.   

The boisterous crowd, some of whom danced in the aisles, included people dressed in very mini, miniskirts, lavish head coverings, and fishnet stockings. Prayer cards were distributed with a photograph of Gentili, describing her as "transvestite," whore," "blessed," and "mother."   


Family members of Gentili gloated to the New York Times that this was the first funeral mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a transgender person. They also revealed that they did not tell the Cathedral staff anything about the life or beliefs of their deceased relative. 

St. Patrick’s Cathedral leadership say they were tricked. The cathedral’s rector, Fr. Enrique Salvo, issued a statement saying, "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."

The reaction to this controversy -- both pro and con—has been loud and abundant….and very superficial.  

Let’s put "outrage" aside and get to the crux of the issue. 

In the Catholic Church, a funeral mass is a solemn prayer for the repose of the soul of the deceased. It is a prayer for salvation. It is a prayer for the forgiveness of sins. The official Catechism of the Catholic Church says that in the funeral mass the Church prays that God the Father "will purify his child of his sins and their consequences, and to admit him to the Paschal fullness of the table of the Kingdom".  (CCC #1689)

This is serious stuff. A funeral mass is not primarily a communal celebration of a deceased person’s life. It’s not a crowning of saints. It’s a prayer for sinners. All sinners. Yes, that would include transgender sinners. 


Some Catholics have expressed outrage that the Church allowed this funeral to take place in the first place, because, "after all, she was transgender." I understand their outrage, but not their reasoning.  

The problem with holding the funeral was not that Cecilia Gentili was transgender.  The problem was that neither she nor the people who requested the funeral on her behalf, wanted the Church to pray for her redemption and salvation. They don't believe what the Church believes… about God, about sin, or even about Catholic funerals!   

In life, Gentili vocally expressed her disbelief in God and rejected the notion of the need for divine forgiveness of sins. She was a well-known advocate for these beliefs. For her family and friends to use the most prominent Catholic cathedral in the United States as a stage to mock the very essence of a funeral mass is tasteless and sacrilegious.  

It also does nothing for the next transgender person (or any public sinner) who genuinely wants a funeral mass, for all the right reasons.   

No, we don’t want our churches to require a moral litmus test to determine who does and does not "get" a funeral mass. Not many of us would pass that test. But is it too much to ask that the person requesting a Catholic funeral actually want a Catholic funeral?  


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