Desecration at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

The controversy surrounding the recent funeral for Cecilia Gentili at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York has been well-documented in the press. Gentili was a transgender prostitute, an atheist, and a misogynist who denied that women’s bodies were of any real relevance. The service has been decried by Catholic conservatives as blasphemous—among other things, it featured prayers for transgender rights and a eulogy that praised Gentili as “Saint Cecilia, the mother of all whores”—and celebrated by Catholic progressives. The priest in charge of the cathedral has issued an apology, claiming that when he agreed to host the service he had no idea of what was to transpire. A Mass has even been offered by way of atonement.

The incident is eloquent testimony to the nature of this moment in American, even Western, culture. That actor Billy Porter played a lead role at the funeral is unsurprising: If anyone could be said to represent the real presence of the absolute absence of intellectual or cultural substance, it is he. Only a cultural vacuum could be filled by such a caricature, and his comment on the funeral bears testimony to this: “There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. But just make sure that you do, you allow yourself to do that, so that we can get to the other side of something that feels a little bit like grace.” What exactly that means is anybody’s guess.

One obvious question is why an atheist man convinced that he is a woman and committed to a life of prostitution would wish to have a funeral in a church. One answer is that the struggle for the heart of a culture always takes place in two areas: time and space. As the Christian transformation of the Roman Empire was marked by the emergence of the liturgical calendar and the turning of pagan temples into churches, so we can expect the reverse to take place when a culture paganizes. The pagans will respond in kind. And so we have a month dedicated to Pride and church buildings used for the mockery of Christianity. Time and space are reimagined in ways that directly confront and annihilate that once deemed sacred. A funeral in a Catholic cathedral for an atheist culture warrior is a first-class way of doing this.

Continue reading at First Things

TAKE ACTION: Contact Cardinal Timothy Dolan at or 212.371.1000 and let him know what you think about this incident in his Archdiocese of New York.