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When he sat down for his satellite radio show this week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan likely knew exactly what he’d be asked about. As he talked about Lenten fish fries and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Harrison Butker, he probably knew what was coming next.

A baseball emblazoned with the crest of Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Credit: Ed Condon/Pillar Media.

But when he was eventually asked about a controversial funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dolan seemed to hope he could skip the topic. 

“[People] are sick of hearing about it, aren’t they?” he asked his co-host. 

“I don’t [know], what do you do?” he continued.

By most accounts, the cardinal is incorrect. Many Catholics are not sick of hearing about the Feb. 15 funeral of LGBT activist Cecilia Gentili, which was first permitted by New York’s cathedral, then defended by the archdiocese itself, and finally disavowed by the cathedral rector, who expressed outrage over the liturgy Saturday. 

In fact, one week after the controversial funeral made headlines in New York, both Catholics and LGBT activists are continuing to raise objections to the liturgy, and how it has been handled by the Archdiocese of New York.

But while controversy continues, the man at its center seems eager to move on, with Dolan offering a few remarks, mostly to praise the cathedral staff, but seeming unwilling to engage on open questions about how the funeral came about, and about what lessons the Archdiocese of New York might learn.

New York City clerics have told The Pillar they expect that Cardinal Dolan will try to skirt controversy on the issue, hoping to avoid provoking ire, even while fomenting frustration among his clerics.

Cardinal Dolan is well-known to be a baseball fan.

In that light, the cardinal’s approach to the funeral controversy points for some to a cardinal more willing to throw out the ceremonial first pitch than he is to swing big from the plate, even when he’s needed the most.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan throws out a ceremonial first pitch. Credit: NY Boulders Baseball.

When controversy first erupted over the funeral liturgy last week, the Archdiocese of New York tried initially to defend what had happened.

“The Church has a sacred obligation to bury the dead. It is a corporal work of mercy,” spokesman Joseph Zwilling told The Pillar.

“There is one thing of which I am certain about every funeral that has taken place in Saint Patrick's Cathedral since its opening some 150 years or so ago:  Every single one has been for a sinner in need of God's mercy,” he added.

But less than a day later, cathedral rector Fr. Enrique Salvo said the liturgy was sacrilegious.

“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 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,” the priest wrote.

Salvo argued that the cathedral had been caught unaware, and taken advantage of — and this week, Dolan doubled down on that claim.

On his radio show, he argued that: “They get a call, they didn’t know the background of this woman who died, all they know is somebody called and said, ‘Our dear friend died, we’d love to have the funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, it would be a great source of consolation, she’s a Catholic, it would be a great source of consolation, it would be a great source of consolation for us, her family and friends.’” 

“And of course the priest at the cathedral said, ‘Come on in, you’re more than welcome,’” Dolan said.

But critics of the liturgy say there’s evidence that isn’t true — including a Washington Post report in which a friend of Gentili, Ceyenne Doroshow, said the cathedral had been given ample warning about Gentili’s identity. 

“I said she is a sex worker advocate, an icon and an activist,” Doroshow told the Washington Post. “And then I told them to Google her, because she’s quite famous.”

Doroshow also made clear that the liturgy was intended to make a statement. 

“The immediate reason was her ongoing conflict with the church and how the church perceives and treats us as a people,” Doroshow told the Washington Post. 

“And for somebody who had been fighting church, religion and state almost her whole life, it was fitting, for me, to make that happen.”

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It is not clear whether the cathedral took Doroshow’s advice, and Googled Gentilli. And Dolan seemed uninterested this week in exploring that question.

“We didn’t know the background, we don’t do FBI checks on people who want to be buried,” the cardinal claimed.

But critics, including clergy in the Archdiocese of New York, have said that an “FBI check” wouldn’t have been necessary — that Doroshow’s Googling advice would have told the cathedral that Gentili was a man who identified as transgender and was an outspoken atheist, and would have conveyed a sense of what might be coming at the funeral. 

And some have pointed out that the cathedral — which bills itself as “America’s parish” — has had recent reminders that staff should better scrutinize liturgy plans.

In January 2023, at a memorial Mass for police officers killed a year earlier, a widow announced from the cathedral’s lectern that she had become pregnant with her dead husband’s child, with — the NY Post reported — sperm harvested after the man was slain. 

While the announcement described a reproductive decision in clear conflict with Catholic doctrine, the woman received a standing ovation from the gathered congregation — including from the priests vested in the sanctuary. 

With no attempt to address the moral questions raised, the priest celebrant at the Mass joked after the woman’s remarks about his apparent willingness to baptize the baby “for free.”

Priests of the NY archdiocese have told The Pillar that the situation was discouraging, especially when it made headlines in New York — and that it should have prompted a serious overhaul of the cathedral’s screening process, and stricter policies about speakers during liturgies.

But most especially, they say, the January 2023 Mass should have given rise to greater awareness that the cathedral is a public platform — and can be used to advance agendas which defy Catholic doctrine.

Some critics of the liturgy this month say that if Salvo’s apology was sincere, and the archdiocese regards the liturgy as a scandal, then it should address with transparency the unanswered questions about the funeral — including the question of how a funeral was scheduled for a non-parishioner with seemingly little curiosity from the cathedral’s staff — even when they were apparently warned.

“I do think it was incompetence,” one senior cleric in the Archdiocese of New York told The Pillar

“But, still, there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense. Scheduling anything at St. Pat’s usually means jumping through a lot of hoops, even for priests in the archdiocese. So somebody has to figure out how this happened.”

Another senior priest of the archdiocese told The Pillar that “the presbyterate thinks this is serious. Guys are embarrassed by how all of this happened. But no one is holding his breath that anything will happen.”

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A baseball signed by NY’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

Dolan’s remarks on his radio show suggest that the cardinal regards the funeral issue as over. He indicated no intention to review policies and procedures, or to investigate accountability for a liturgy he called “very irreverent and disrespectful.”

The cardinal has not responded to interview requests on the matter.

But sources in the Archdiocese of New York say that the city’s presbyterate is not “over” the issue, and that Dolan will likely be questioned about it in his next monthly Zoom call with his priests. 

Some sources said they also eventually expect protests at the cathedral over the issue — and that Dolan should have expected that too.

“That’s why the Mass of Reparation shouldn’t have been this private thing, that no one knew about,” one senior leader told The Pillar. “Because a lot of people are upset by this, and that would have given them a way to take that to prayer. Now we’ll just see protestors outside the cathedral — and it’s too easy for the chancery to just write things like that off.”

“There’s an ostrich mentality, which doesn’t take seriously that people get hurt by things like this, and just wants to say things are fine.”

But if tensions continue to escalate over the liturgy, archdiocesan sources say they do not expect Dolan will respond to them. 

“He always manages to find a way to give himself a pass on things like this, and he will for this one too,” one senior priest told The Pillar. “He’s going to keep his head down and wait for this to go away.”

Some sources have said that Dolan might be reluctant to engage publicly on the subject because he doesn’t want to be seen as in conflict with New York’s LGBT community, especially as the Holy See aims to find avenues for pastoral relationships on that front.

One senior priest said the cardinal might be thinking about the future of the archdiocese — and wanting to ensure that he has influence on the appointment of his successor.


But others pointed to a pattern they see in Dolan — that on controversial issues, the cardinal has a tendency to be conciliatory toward critics — even if that means downplaying his own views, or avoiding doctrinal clarity.

One source pointed to Dolan’s approach amid 2019 calls to excommunicate New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, over a state abortion law, which allowed late-term abortions, and let non doctors perform abortions. 

Dolan called the law “hideous,” and condemned it repeatedly as a “civil rights issue.” He also lamented that Cuomo had celebrated the law’s passage by directing state landmarks, like One World Trade Center, to be illuminated in pink. 

But when Catholics called repeatedly for Dolan to declare Cuomo excommunicated, or to declare some other disciplinary measure, the cardinal was unwilling.

In January 2019, Dolan said on his radio show that he would not use canonical measures to address Cuomo’s abortion agenda.

“Come on now, that would be completely counterproductive!” the cardinal said about imposing disciplinary measures in accord with the Church’s law.

“Especially if you have a governor who enjoys this, and who wants to represent himself as a martyr to the cause … he’s proud to dissent from the essentials of the faith,” Dolan added.

Regarding calls for him to impose ecclesiastical penalties, Dolan said that other Catholics should address Cuomo’s activity.

“I say to the people, ‘What are you all looking at Daddy here for?... I don’t have much clout, some fat, Irish, balding bishop, talking about defending the Church?... people are going to say ‘Ho Hum!”

Dolan said instead that lay people should “do something” about New York’s governor, mostly through their votes.

“Don’t yell at me! Look at yourselves!” the cardinal said.

Priests say that tendency is part of his effort to cast himself as a generally affable public pastor — to smooth out any edges of his public profile that might be rough or offensive, and to avoid appearing like a disciplinarian.

“He takes this approach because he thinks it’s good for the Church,” one senior NY leader said, “he really does think it will help him win people over for the Church. But it does mean that he holds back — that even if you know what he thinks about something, he’s not going to say it.”

“Does that mean he checks his swing? Yeah, he does. And this stuff matters to a lot of people.”

With controversy continuing over the funeral, will Dolan eventually address the ongoing questions, and take a bigger swing at the ball?

It is certainly his turn at the plate.

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