Opinion: There’s no compassion, humanity or Christianity in this statement from the Archdiocese of New York

Editor’s Note: Allison Hope is a writer whose work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Slate and elsewhere. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. Read more opinion on CNN.

The day after Valentine’s Day, a massive, fabulous funeral was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to honor the late, great Cecila Gentili. It was a service filled with love and tears of laughter and sadness, not to mention a performance by actor and singer Billy Porter (the two had been castmates on the groundbreaking television series “Pose”). St. Patrick’s Cathedral is perhaps the most famous Catholic church outside of the Vatican. Gentili’s friends chose it for her funeral for that reason — her friend who planned the funeral said that because Gentili was “magic for our community … that’s why I picked a place as iconic as St. Patrick’s.”

Allison Hope - c/o Allison Hope
Allison Hope - c/o Allison Hope

“Except on Easter Sunday, we don’t have a crowd that’s this well turned out,” the priest proclaimed, as hundreds of queer people came together to mourn the loss of a leader, a sister, a woman who was transgender and who clawed herself out of a hostile homeland, sex slavery and poverty to become an activist, actress and inspiration to the many vulnerable people she fought for every waking moment of her life.

But the Very Rev. Enrique Salvo, pastor of St. Patrick’s, did not mince words in a statement he issued from the Archdiocese of New York’s office only days later.

“Thanks to so many who have let us know they share our outrage over the scandalous behavior at a funeral here at St. Patrick’s Cathedral earlier this week,” the statement read. “The Cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way. That such a scandal occurred at ‘America’s Parish Church’ makes it worse; that it took place as Lent was beginning, the annual forty-day struggle with the forces of sin and darkness, is a potent reminder of how much we need the prayer, reparation, repentance, grace, and mercy to which this holy season invites us.”

We can’t be certain what precisely Salvo meant by issuing this statement, but its words are condescending and judgmental; to use the word “scandal” about the expressions of mourning and celebration at the funeral of a trans person lacks compassion and humanity. There’s nothing Christian about it.

The statement invokes the beginning of Lent as a compounding factor in the perceived abhorrence of the event. It might have been referring to the colorful expression of queer people on display at the funeral. Or perhaps it refers to some of the words uttered in eulogies meant to honor the late trans icon when it uses the terms “sacrilegious” and “deceptive.” “Saint Cecilia. Mother of all whores,” trans rights advocate Liaam Winslet said in Spanish during the funeral, for example.

Gentili was not shy about the fact that she had been a sex worker, and many knew of her work to decriminalize women’s bodies and secure legal protections for sex workers. And while many Christian churches (not just Catholic ones) likely would not embrace everything that was said and done at the service for Gentili, the irony of Mary Magdalene is also not lost in this. The church has historically had no problem talking about whores. Is it just trans whores they cannot acknowledge?

In perhaps the worst part of all of this, the Archdiocese’s office announced in Salvo’s statement that St. Patrick’s will hold a so-called “Mass of Reparation” — a mass designed to atone, make amends or repair for sin — at the direction of Cardinal Timothy Dolan. As if a funeral with LGBTQ people requires repair or restoration.

I have a Lenten message of my own to the leaders of the Archdiocese of New York and members of the Catholic Church who see nothing wrong with their statement of condemnation: In this holy season, give up your judgement and hate.

Cecilia Gentili's casket is brought into St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, on February 15. - Laura Oliverio/CNN
Cecilia Gentili's casket is brought into St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, on February 15. - Laura Oliverio/CNN

How small of you to judge how mourning people chose to honor their dead loved one . How low of you to drive the dagger more deeply into an already wounded community, a community filled with vulnerable people. How hurtful of you to use Lent as a weak excuse to point fingers when the biggest sins are well-documented from inside your walls.

Jesus would have washed their feet, not cast them out or grandstanded about needing a reparation mass. He would have acknowledged the honest and incredibly difficult life Gentili and her friends who came to honor her lived. How she devoted her life to service to others, living the mission the church preaches, perhaps more honorably and authentically than many of those casting judgement. Those who live in glass, tax-free houses should not throw stones.

Some may say hate is too strong a word here. Yet Merriam-Webster defines hate as “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger or a sense of injury.” Certainly hate is present in Salvo’s statement, and it’s also present in the history of how the Catholic Church has treated members of my community.

This is the same church that turned its back on gay men during the AIDS crisis, and on whose steps protests took place. The same church that marked the start of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City, which, for years, banned LGBTQ groups from marching. The same church that welcomes members who believe LGBTQ people don’t need to exist or can be “cured” with abusive conversion therapy techniques.

The Archdiocese of New York revealed its true colors with this statement, and along with them, the persistence of anti-LGBTQ judgment within the Catholic Church. This institution can no longer hide behind the smoke and mirrors of “love the sinner, hate the sin,” or Pope Francis’s largely symbolic gesture to allow same-sex couples to receive blessings. It has caused so much damage to LGBTQ people for so long, and if nothing else, in Salvo’s statement, that hate is out in the open for all to see.

The only comfort I have at this moment is knowing that Gentili is probably looking down and laughing right now. I can only imagine she would have been thrilled to know she ruffled some feathers.

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