As of Wednesday, the Archdiocese of New York is investigating St. Paul the Apostle in Manhattan for an art exhibit called “God is Trans: A Queer Spiritual Journey.” The art exhibit by Fordham University student Adah Unachukwu has been installed around the church’s high altar.
The exhibit features three stages of the queer spiritual journey: sacrifice, identity, and communion. According to the accompanying artist’s statement, “Sacrifice” illustrates the “need to shed an old life and personhood in order to be able to focus on your spiritual need.” The statement continues, “There is no devil; just past selves.”
The next portion, “Identity,” provokes the viewer to question his assumptions about images of holiness: “What does your god look like?” The final segment, titled “Communion,” completes the spiritual journey “[b]y placing God and the mortal on the same plane to speak to one another.”
The exhibit has garnered mixed reactions from parishioners. One person, described by the New York Post as “irate,” said that the parish priest had declined to offer a response to questions about the art. “You can’t put this out on the altar and then hide,” the man said.
Other parishioners were unbothered. “I don’t understand the art, but this church is very liberal, which is why I love this church,” said Cherri Ghosh, an 80-year-old parishioner.
The Archdiocese of New York did not know about the art installation until it started to receive requests for comment from the media. “If media reports are accurate, then we would have concerns. We are investigating and looking to speak with the pastor of the parish to get more information,” a spokesperson said.
Catholic News Agency reported that the parish has a ministry that celebrated the International Transgender Day of Visibility and that “intends to host events that will feature panel discussions on trans-affirming theology and health care very soon.” (RELATED: Catholic Sisters’ Allegiances in Question After Transgender Day of Visibility Statement)
While the archdiocese investigates St. Paul the Apostle, perhaps it can also venture a few subway stops south to another Manhattan parish. The Church of St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit parish near Union Square, doesn’t have an art installation claiming that “God is trans” or that the devil doesn’t exist. But, like St. Paul the Apostle, the parish has conformed itself to this age.
Craig-Austin Rose, a policy researcher in Washington, D.C., attended a Catholic conference in New York City earlier this year and visited St. Francis Xavier for Mass.
“Upon arriving at the church, I thought the architecture was beautiful and I was eager to attend Holy Mass there,” he told The American Spectator. “However, when we entered, I noticed details that unnerved me.”
During Mass, references to “Lord” were replaced with “God” to be gender neutral. “The only time God was ‘properly gendered’ was in the Our Father and during the consecration,” Rose said. “I thought these were liturgical abuses that one reads in articles, not personally experiences.”
St. Francis Xavier hosts a “Catholic Lesbians” community with over 300 members. The community members “challenge the use of male-centric language and images of God,” “advocate for female diaconates and priests,” and “yearn to one day be allowed to openly marry our beloved in our church.” The problem is not that the parish hosts a faith-sharing community for lesbians, but rather that the community centers itself on deliberate hostility to the Church’s teachings.
The parish also hosts “Xavier Yoga,” a weekly gathering to celebrate “spirituality, prayer, and intention in motion” as participants practice “being present with community, ourselves, and the good word.” All fine and well — except the parish’s website includes a picture of the event where yogis have set their mats up on the church’s sanctuary surrounding the altar.
“No Catholic should have to be nervous walking into a new parish, wary that he or she might witness sacrilege or blasphemy,” Rose told The American Spectator. It looks as though Archbishop of New York Timothy Cardinal Dolan will have his hands full in the coming weeks as he works to bring wayward sheep back into the fold.
Mary Frances Myler is a postgraduate fellow with the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government.
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