Cardinal George Pell's funeral sees mourners and protesters

February 02, 2023
Protesters and mourners clashed outside George Pell’s funeral in Sydney.
Protesters and mourners clashed outside George Pell’s funeral in Sydney.

SYDNEY — Both mourners and protesters have packed the surrounding streets as a funeral for Cardinal George Pell got under way in his Australian homeland.

The Catholic Cardinal died in Rome last month, aged 81, after complications from hip surgery.

Formerly one of the Pope's top aides, Cardinal Pell was Australia's highest ranking Catholic.

But his public image was tainted by unproven allegations he concealed and committed child sexual abuse.

Inside St Mary's Cathedral, where Cardinal Pell served as Archbishop of Sydney for over a decade, dignitaries including former Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott filled pews.

Noticeably absent were both Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who sent delegates, and New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet - himself a devout Catholic.

Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher led a requiem mass, saying Cardinal Pell was a "giant of the Catholic Church in Australia" who had been wrongly demonized.

"Even after he was unanimously exonerated by the High Court of Australia [of child sex abuse charges], some continued to demonize him. But many appreciate the legacy of this most influential churchman in our nation's history."

And in a message read to the congregation, Pope Francis paid tribute to Cardinal Pell's "consistent and committed witness, his dedication to the gospel and to the Church".

Mourners who gathered in the cathedral square to pay their respects told the BBC Cardinal Pell was a kind man who went out of his way to support people through challenging times.

Nathan, 33, said he wants the cardinal to be remembered "for the things he did and not for the things that he was accused of".

But outside the cathedral square, child abuse survivors remembered him as someone who failed to protect them. Some travelled from other states to tie ribbons to the church fence - a gesture seen in Australia as a tribute to victiof the Church abuse crisis.

Maureen, 75, came to leave a ribbon on behalf of a close friend, who was abused by a Catholic teacher.

"I can't let today pass without standing for him. He is not well enough to stand for himself," she told the BBC.

And protesters gathering in parkland opposite the cathedral remembered him as a "monstrous bigot".

"Pell stood for blatant homophobia, misogyny... covering up abuse within the Catholic Church," organizer Kim Stern told the BBC.

"We think it's pretty disgusting he's getting a send-off like this."

During a career spanning six decades, Cardinal Pell rose to prominence in the Church as a strong supporter of traditional Catholic values, often taking conservative views on issues like abortion and priestly celibacy.

He worked his way through the ranks of the Church in Victoria, serving as Archbishop of both Melbourne and then Sydney, before he was summoned to Rome in 2014 to clean up the Vatican's finances.

As Vatican treasurer, Cardinal Pell was often described as the Church's third-ranked official.

But the cleric left his lofty post in 2017, returning to Australia to face trial on child sex abuse charges.

A jury in 2018 found he had abused two boys when he was Archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.

Cardinal Pell, who always maintained his innocence, spent over a year in prison before the High Court of Australia quashed the verdict in 2020.

But even before he faced charges himself, Cardinal Pell's reputation in Australia was marred by the Church's failure to tackle its child sex abuse crisis.

As a leader, many Australians felt he bore some responsibility for the broader Church's concealment of abuse.

A landmark inquiry into child sex abuse in institutional settings found Cardinal Pell also personally knew of child sexual abuse by priests in Australia as early as the 1970s and had failed to act. Cardinal Pell disputed the findings, saying they were "not supported by evidence". — BBC

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