The funeral for Cardinal George Pell was held in Australia on Thursday. Mourners prayed and softly sang hymns. However, the sounds were being drowned out by protesters that were condemning him to hell.
George Pell, the Catholic cleric died of complications due to surgery in 2022. He was 81 years old and left behind a complicated legacy.
Although he was Australia’s top-ranked Catholic his public image was ruined by unproven allegations. The allegations were not only committing child sexual abuse but also concealing them.
The allegations loomed large in Sydney during the funeral on Thursday. There was a time when the police outside St Mary’s Cathedral had to step in to separate the angry mourners from chanting protesters. One of the protesters was arrested.
Dignitaries including former Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard were also present in the church. There were hundreds of people gathered in a forecourt to watch the requiem Mass on big screens.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet- a devout Catholic himself were not present for the funeral. Both sent delegates.
In a message that was read to the congregation, Cardinal Pell was praised for his dedication to the Church and gospel by Pope Francis.
While the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, praised him as a "giant of the Catholic Church in Australia" who had been unfairly demonized, he was vilified by the media.
Cardinal Pell accepted the role of Vatican treasurer in 2014 but left in 2017. He then returned to Australia to face the trial on child sexual abuse charges. He was then convicted of the crime and acquitted on appeal.
Many of Cardinal Pell's fans believe that he was unfairly vilified and that his stance on the subject of child sexual abuse was one of the factors that contributed to his greatness.
According to sources, Cardinal Pell was always the first Australian catholic to report child abusers to the police. People who gathered to pay their respects mentioned how he was a kind man, encouraged those going through challenging times, and also was quick to offer support.
One of the mourners mentioned how he hoped Cardinal would be remembered for the things done to him and not for what he was accused of. However, outside cathedral square, the victims and child abuse survivors remembered him as the person who failed to protect them. People traveled from different states to tie ribbons to the church fence. This was a gesture observed in Australia as a tribute to the victims of the Church abuse crisis. Many of the ribbons were taken down overnight by supporters of Cardinal Pell on Wednesday.
A landmark inquiry into child sexual abuse in Australia revealed that Cardinal Pell was aware of priestly abuse as early as the 1970s but failed to act. Cardinal Pell contested the results, arguing that they were "not backed by evidence."
One of the mourners, Louisa Pastoois mentioned, how she admired the cardinal but also accepted that his legacy will be mixed as what he left behind in the Church and the world was something different.