Should a Funeral in New York Matter to Me?

Being a bit of a news junkie, it’s rare that a headline really grabs me. However, one story in particular has taken up residence in my brain this past week. It’s a headline that I think deserves a deeper look.

The Story

The bare bones of the story are that a funeral of a biological man, known as Cecilia Gentili, reported to be a “sex worker and actress,” and a transgender activist by the NYT, and a self proclaimed atheist, was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Reportedly, when arrangements were made, the Church was not informed of the life and beliefs of the disceased. When, at the time of the funeral, it was discovered, a last minute call was made to not hold a Mass, but simply a service.

Fr. Edward Dougherty, former director of the Maryknoll order, presided. He is being hailed as a hero by Cardinal Dolan for calling the “no Mass” audible. However, while presiding over the funeral, he used female pronouns, calling Gentili “our sister,” and sat by and watched while the following took place:

– A transgender person could be seen kissing another man in the Church’s sanctuary while “words of remembrance” were offered.
– Participants celebrated Cecilia as a “whore,” a “puta,” and as the “mother of whores”.
– Prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary were interrupted, with a participant shouting “Ave Cecilia” over the “Ave Maria,” and dancing around the deceased’s casket.

(Details via The Pillar Catholic)


If your response is sadness, feeling a sick pit in your stomach, and righteous anger, well I’d say you’re spot on.

We could do a deep dive into the individual clergy involved. We could ask questions about how this snuck past the administration with apparently no questions asked. We could bemoan the state of the Church in America. We could simply be outraged. All of those could have some merit.

But I’d like to suggest a different route. Perhaps it’s worth our time to dig deeper into the underlying issues that could have led to this unimaginable breach of such a sacred institution.

Outrage is easy. Solutions are not. I’m of the opinion that the laity has abdicated their role for far too long in our country, throwing up our hands and saying, “Well what can we do?” and blaming the clergy and hiding out in our own little communities where this would, of course, NEVER happen.

Correcting course is a responsibility that falls on every Christian’s shoulders. But how can we correct course if we don’t know where we went off the rails? I’ll get to that. But first, a smidge of the cathedral’s history seems pertinent to add here.

St. Patrick’s

The hallowed doors of St. Patrick’s first swept open to serve her parish in 1879. If, like me, you need some context to place the time period in your brain, this was the same year Edison invented the light bulb.

Archbishop Hughes, the driving force behind the building of this glorious cathedral spoke of it saying it was, “for the glory of Almighty God, for the honor of the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin, for the exaltation of Holy Mother Church, for the dignity of our ancient and glorious Catholic name.”

In 145 years of use, this incredible feat of architecture has been a safe harbor for the beauty of countless holy sacraments. It’s 330 foot high spire has pointed countless eyes towards the heavens, and the One who made them. Countless folks from all walks of life have entered through the bronze doors, weighing 9 tons and bearing the likenesses of St. Isaac Jogues, St. Frances X Cabrini, and Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, seeking our Lord.

What did every one of those countless souls have in common? They were sinners. This is then, neither meant to be a condemnation of sinners, nor a “he gets us” style acceptance of soul blackening sins. My hope is that the following, rather than the blame game, will be a call to our own repentance, to examine our own complicity in such crimes against our Lord, and motivation to take our own role as the Church Militant seriously.

Correcting Course

Many factors, certainly contributed to the allowance of such an event, but I’d like to offer three very important concepts that seem to rarely be discussed in modernity.

1. We have abandoned the sin of Scandal. Scandal is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as, “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death.” The catechism explains that the magnitude of this sin increases when the speaker has a duty to teach the truth. Ahem, Fr. Dougherty and Cardinal Dolan. This acknowledgment of this sin requires us to wholesale reject the culture’s influence of the “you do you” movement, that leaves no room for objective truth. Have we allowed that notion to seep into our own worldview?

2. “Pastoral care” has overshadowed the true – and crucial – mission of Catholic and Christian clergy. Pastoral care, done properly, when boiled down to its base means willing the ultimate good of another. The term has been hijacked by a movement that focuses solely on God’s Mercy and Love, and ignores the scriptures that tell us of His Justice. The true good of another has never been brought about by accepting and glorifying soul blackening sin. Catholic priests, in particular, are the guardians of the sacraments. Do we pray for them every day to have the courage to uphold their sacred duty?

3. We, as a society, no longer believe in the existence of the devil, Hell and spiritual warfare. Venerable Fulton Sheen explained, “Satan stations more devils on monastery walls than in the dens of iniquity, for the latter offer no resistance.” While we should not obsess over it, we certainly cannot hope to win the spiritual battle when we continue to be surprised by evil within our Church walls. Be prepared. Arm yourself with courage by doing the small hard things well, in order to pass the test when large hard things come to pass. Prepare by example our children to do the same.

Should a Funeral in New York Matter to Me?

As a Catholic wife and mother, I often feel that my options to have an impact are limited. But isn’t that the perfect excuse to allow ourselves to do nothing? If we hope to save the Church in America, doing nothing is no longer an option.

Prayer matters. Upholding values matters. Teaching our children virtue matters. Building our own courage matters. Being informed about our faith and the world, matters. All of us can do those things.

Knowing who wins in the end should give us confidence, but at the same time, strongly repel complacency. Start cultivating the courage to fight the battle of good and evil in our own homes, and watch that ripple effect change the world. Know that you’re not alone, and let’s fight together to hear those final words from our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.

See more articles written by Bridget Zurlinden