Monday, February 19, 2024

New York archdiocese calls funeral for trans activist at cathedral ‘scandalous’

Archdiocese of New York

The Roman Catholic archdiocese of New York City has condemned a funeral service for the transgender activist Cecilia Gentili at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral after congregants cheered her for being celebrated as “the mother of all whores”.

The packed funeral – organisers reported 1,400 mourners – took place on Thursday, 10 days after the Argentinian-born Gentili, 52, died at her Brooklyn home.

Gentili was an activist and actor known for her advocacy on behalf of sex workers, as well as an atheist and author of Faltas: Letters to Everyone in My Hometown Who Isn’t My Rapist. Her cause of death has not been revealed.

The archdiocese condemned the funeral, saying some mourners behaved scandalously at the service, which featured a turnout closer in number to the midtown Manhattan cathedral’s jam-packed Easter mass than a normal Thursday, with many transgender congregants lavishly dressed for Gentili’s send-off.

The archdiocese released a statement on Saturday saying it had “no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way”. The pastor of St Patrick’s, Enrique Salvo, said the church had not known of Gentili’s background or beliefs when it booked the service.

Shortly before the service was held, the archdiocese called it a routine event. A reporter had told the church that Gentili was a transgender activist, according to the New York Times.

But Salvo said “the cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral mass”, per the Times. Yet some mourners then exhibited “scandalous behavior”, the church said in its statement.

The church said it did not take issue with Gentili’s identity. But the church objected to the actions of some of the mourners, including some who cheered loudly when Gentili was hailed as “Santa Cecilia, la madre de todas las putas” – which is Spanish for “Saint Cecilia, the mother of all whores”.

CatholicVote called the funeral “unbelievable and sick” and said it was “a mockery of the Christian faith”. Among other critics, Nicholas Gregoris of the Priestly Society of Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman called Gentili’s service “revolting” and a “desecration” of the US’s most famous Catholic church.

But on the ideological flip side of the faith, Catholic liberals praised the church for hosting the service for a transgender woman. Before the backlash took hold, the archdiocese spokesperson Joseph Zwilling told the Times that “a funeral is one of the corporal works of mercy”.

“We brought precious life and radical joy to the Cathedral in radical defiance of the church’s hypocrisy and anti-trans hatred,” Gentili’s family said in a statement after the diocese issued its response. “Cecilia Gentili’s funeral service, which filled the pews in ways the church only can during Easter service and [New York police] funerals, was a reflection of the love she had for her community and a testament to the impact of her tireless advocacy.

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

The organizer of the funeral, Ceyenne Doroshow, told the Times that Gentili’s family had kept her background “under wraps” from the church. And Doroshow said she had wanted to her funeral to be at Saint Patrick’s because “it is an icon, just like her”.

“Y’all may have heard the story that Jesus ministered to all,” Doroshow said during the service. “We lost our saint. We lost somebody that we could call no matter what, no matter what time. This lady worked so hard to make sure girls like me, girls like you, boys like you, are safe, are grounded, are rooted, got healthcare – that sex workers are free.”

According to Vogue, Gentili’s funeral began with a song by her Pose co-star Billy Porter. “We’re going to think of her in another realm,” Doroshow told the congregants. “In a place where everything is beautiful and shiny.”

The crowd went wild during the ceremony when Gentili was crowned “madre de las putas,” Vogue noted.

“It’s Cecilia day,” artist and organizer Rio Sofia said. “She’s an immigrant, so it’s international. It’s a day to celebrate the fact that we flooded Saint Patrick’s Cathedral with trans people. That was nothing less than historic.”

Organizer Fran Tirado said that being called a whore was one of the highest compliments Gentili could give. “Cecilia was never a victim,” Rio Sofia recently wrote online. Sex work, to Gentili, was work just like any other.

In an interview with the Guardian last year, Gentili said: “Sex work, not for nothing, is the oldest profession. People need to survive. And we’re not going anywhere.”