The archdiocese has faced backlash for hosting a transgender activist's funeral service.

February 19, 2024 - Reading time: 3 minutes

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 – organizers 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.

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,

DW Staff

David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.