Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Coming soon to a parish near you?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 20, 2024

What happened in St. Patrick’s cathedral last week could happen in your parish soon, if your community is unprepared. Is your parish ready?

Granted, New York, the self-proclaimed “capital of the world,” offered a unique opportunity for the activists of the sexual revolution. The grotesque “funeral service” for Cecilia Gentilli was a carefully planned ploy to use a renowned Catholic church as the stage for an event glorifying sexual perversity. Sadly, it worked—and the cathedral was desecrated in the process. And because it was successful, we can all be sure that other LGBT activists will try it again. And again and again.

The activists in your city or town probably will not be as ambitious and flamboyant as those in New York. But count on it: there will be other similar efforts to do what the activists in Manhattan did: to celebrate sexual license and to ridicule the Catholic Church, which remains the most prominent institutional opponent to the unbridled satisfaction of lust.

So again: Is your parish ready? As a guide to proper preparation, a few key points:

1. Know who’s coming. If someone wants to schedule a ceremony in the church—a funeral, a wedding, a baptism, an anniversary Mass—ask questions. Are they regular parishioners? Are they active Catholics? Why do they want to use the church? (Or perhaps the question should be: Do they want to use the Church?) Do they understand what will be expected of them in a Catholic ceremony? Are they properly disposed?

To be sure our churches should be open to anyone who comes with goodwill, seeking God’s grace. But we cannot turn a blind eye to the possible abuses of that pastoral hospitality. In response to the justifiable outrage over the scandal at St. Patrick’s, a spokesman for the New York archdiocese initially said: “The Church has a sacred obligation to bury the dead. It’s a corporal work of mercy.” (The archdiocese soon changed its tune; see below.) Yes, but the pastors of the Church also have an obligation to adhere to canon law, which warns about “manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.”

We can hope and pray that Cecilia Gentilli—who was evidently raised as a Catholic—had repented of his riotously immoral life. But in the absence of clear evidence of such repentance—and that evidence would have to be as public as his advocacy for “transgenderism” and his professed atheism—a scandal was inevitable.

The Church has an obligation to bury the dead, and to offer the sacraments to the faithful. But there is no blanket “right” for anyone to insist on a church service—much less to exploit the church for purposes inimical to Christian morality.

2. Be alert to the possibility of a fifth column within the parish. The activists hoping to exploit the church may find sympathetic allies within the parish staff, ready to run interference for them.

Did the admirers of Cecilia Gentilli have allies on the staff of St. Patrick’s? The cathedral’s rector, Father Enrique Salvo, said after the fact that the staff “had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way.” Maybe he was indeed caught completely off guard. But it seems highly unlikely that such a service could have been planned without some inside help.

Cecilia Gentilli had been a very prominent figure in New York. Father James Martin, SJ, known primarily for his solicitude toward homosexuals, thought it “wonderful” that Gentilli would be accorded a service at the cathedral. (He later tempered his enthusiasm, when he learned about the outrageous behavior at the ceremony.) If the presiding priest, Father Edward Dougherty, was uncomfortable with the ceremony or with the blasphemous statements from the eulogists, he did not show it. Throughout he used female pronouns in reference to Gentilli, who was created as a man.

Amy Wellborn, always a balanced and perceptive observer of Catholic affairs, weighed the episode at St. Patrick’s on her Twitter account and concluded: “I’m just not buying the ‘blindsided’ argument.” Her analysis was compelling. Could a service for 1,000 people be arranged without planning? Could the cathedral staff have missed the gay-rights placards and the banners placed near the sanctuary? Why were videotapes of the service available almost immediately—while the Mass of reparation was celebrated in secret?

3. Train the church staff to respond. Not only clergy, but parish secretaries, ushers, maintenance and security personnel should all be taught to recognize the signs of untoward behavior and to take appropriate action. Ignoring a problem will not make it go away; it will only encourage more offenses. Do not be fearful that an intervention will cause a scandal; it is far more likely to prevent a scandal that an excess of forbearance would have allowed.

No one wants confrontations in our churches. (No one, that is, except agents provocateurs.) But if the options are sacrilege and blasphemy and desecration, an early confrontation is the prudent alternative. Parish staff members must be ready to intervene, using their training to minimize the friction. Otherwise outraged Catholic laymen, probably without that training, eventually will.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Feb. 23, 2024 9:41 AM ET USA

    Since Phil posted this column 3 days ago, J D Flynn at The Pillar has released a more detailed article about the bizarre goings on at St. Patricks Cathedral. It covers a wide scope of information that shows a disjointed process and/or neglect, benign or otherwise, in the archdiocese in regard to the favors of the Catholic Church. I do not think bizarre is too strong a word in light of this additional information.

  • Posted by: feedback - Feb. 21, 2024 10:05 AM ET USA

    Much of the scandal would be avoided if the pastor followed the General Instruction of the Roman Missal #382. "At the Funeral Mass there should, as a rule, be a short homily, but never a eulogy of any kind." The place for eulogy is the funeral home, or the gravesite, or the reception hall after the burial.

  • Posted by: dkmayernj8551 - Feb. 21, 2024 8:29 AM ET USA

    Good piece. On point 2, given its purported secrecy, what proof is there that a mass of reparation was actually celebrated at all? With the complete lack of credibility (putting it politely) of the Cathedral's statement that, like Sergeant Schulz in Hogan's Heroes, it "know[s] nothing," the Cathedral has forfeited all credibility absent supporting evidence. As to the third point, parish staff will only intervene if they think they have support from those in charge (lacking at the Cathedral).

  • Posted by: garedawg - Feb. 21, 2024 12:31 AM ET USA

    Perhaps it's time for some burly men within the parish to start a new "ministry" to help bring a quick end to such events.

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Feb. 21, 2024 12:18 AM ET USA

    Yes, outraged Catholic laymen eventually will intervene. I'm not planning to stand idly by, should my parish be desecrated while I'm present. And, in case any diocesan staff are wondering: I'm not interested in any "training," thanks.

  • Posted by: ewaughok - Feb. 20, 2024 6:25 PM ET USA

    Cardinal Dolan should pray that he’s not held responsible for the offenses to the Lord- who is Priest, Prophet, and King - and Our Holy Queen of Heaven, for the wickedness he has allowed in the diocese of New York.