Cardinal Timothy Dolan defends archdiocese's handling of Cecilia Gentili funeral despite fallout

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is defending his archdiocese's actions after a funeral for a trans-identified activist was allowed to be held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Feb. 15. 

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has received national attention after St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan hosted a funeral service for Cecilia Gentili, a trans-identifying atheist and former prostitute. The funeral was decried as sacrilegious by critics and featured eulogists referring to Gentili as “St. Cecilia, mother of all whores” and a prayer for “gender-affirming healthcare” by one of the many LGBT activists gathered at the historic house of worship. 

Dolan, the leader of the archdiocese, reacted to the fallout of last week’s funeral on his Sirius XM radio show “Conversation With Cardinal Dolan” on Tuesday. “I think our cathedral acted extraordinarily well,” he maintained, adding: "They didn’t know the background of this woman who had died. All they know is somebody called and said, 'Our dear friend died. We’d love to have the funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It would be a great source of consolation.'"

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“We didn’t know the background,” he insisted. “We don’t do FBI checks on people who want to be buried. So anyway, then, of course, once the funeral started is when the trouble started, because of the irreverence and the disrespect of the big crowd that was there. That was very, very sad. And again, I applaud our priests who made a quick decision that, uh-oh, with behavior like this we can’t do a Mass.”

Instead, Dolan noted, they decided, “We’ll do the Liturgy of the Word, which is the readings, and the sermon and the prayers, the petition, and the Our Father, and then we’ll stop it.” Reiterating that the priests who presided over the funeral determined that “the Mass is not going to go on,” Dolan declared, “Bravo for our Cathedral people who knew nothing about this that was coming up.”

Video footage from the event shows a priest at the funeral telling the officiant, the Rev. Edward Dougherty, that they would perform a “general service, no Mass.” The service concluded after the “Our Father.” The Liturgy of the Eucharist, which consists of the blessing of the bread and wine and communion, did not take place. 

As Dolan stands by the priests present at St. Patrick’s during the funeral, a LifePetition calling on the cardinal to perform an exorcism and a Mass of Reparation at the cathedral takes issue with Dougherty’s behavior. Specifically, the petition laments that Dougherty “made light of the attire on display, saying: ‘Except on Easter Sunday, we don’t really have a crowd that is this well turned out.’” Dougherty also referred to Gentili, a man who self-identified as a woman, using female pronouns. 

The petition has amassed 13,691 signatures as of Thursday afternoon. Noting The New York Times’ characterization of Gentili as “a high-profile transgender activist who was well known for [his] advocacy on behalf of sex workers, transgender people, and people living with HIV,” it expresses outrage that attendees dressed “without any respect for God’s house” and that the Spanish words for “transvestite,” “whore,” “blessed” and “mother” were displayed near the altar during the service. 

Additionally, the petition condemned the “blasphemous reference to the true St. Cecilia, who gave her life as a virgin-martyr after refusing to renounce the Catholic faith.” In a letter to Dolan, the petition recalled how “Jesus was filled with zeal for God’s house when He cast out money-changers from the Temple with a whip, and so the least that Your Eminence can do is make reparation and offer exorcism prayers in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, lest this evil be met with lukewarm indifference.”

Similarly, the Catholic nonprofit advocacy group has asked New York Attorney General Letitia James to investigate last Thursday's funeral as a hate crime. President Brian Burch claimed in his letter to James that the deceptive means by which activists were able to conduct a funeral in St. Patrick's for Gentili could qualify as criminal trespassing and a hate crime under New York's Hate Crimes Act.

Dolan indicated that he did, in fact, perform a Mass of Reparation at St. Patrick’s following the Feb. 15 funeral on his Sirius XM program. After describing the idea as “redundant because every mass … is the renewal of the infinitely powerful act of reparation that Jesus did on the cross,” Dolan contended, “We can’t do much; all we can do is unite with Him on His cross in His sacred act of reparation.”

“There is a bit of an arrow in the quiver of the church’s treasury of prayer that if a particularly sacrilegious or scandalous act has occurred in a church, it would be good to offer a mass in particular reparation for that act of irreverence, so we did that,” he explained. 

The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law states that “Sacred places are violated by gravely injurious actions done in them with scandal to the faithful, actions which, in the judgment of the local ordinary, are so grave and contrary to the holiness of the place that it is not permitted to carry on worship in them until the damage is repaired by a penitential rite, according to the norm of the liturgical books.” 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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