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George Pell Funeral: A Divine Send-Off or a Heaven-and-Hell Experience for Attendees

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The funeral of Cardinal George Pell took place in Australia on Thursday and it was marked by a mixture of prayers, hymns, and protests. The Catholic cleric, who died last month from surgery complications, was a former top aide to the Pope and was once Australia’s top-ranked Catholic. However, allegations of child sexual abuse, both committed and concealed, have tarnished his public image. At the funeral, protesters chanted against him outside St Mary’s Cathedral, while police intervened to separate mourners from protesters.

Inside the church, dignitaries including former Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott were present, but the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet were noticeably absent, sending delegates instead. Pope Francis praised Cardinal Pell’s “dedication to the gospel and to the Church” in a message read to the congregation, while Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher referred to him as a “giant of the Catholic Church in Australia”.

Cardinal Pell had a long and influential career in the Catholic Church and was a strong supporter of traditional Catholic values. He served as the Archbishop of Sydney for over a decade and took on the role of Vatican treasurer in 2014. He left the position in 2017 to return to Australia to face trial on child sexual abuse charges, which he was eventually acquitted of on appeal.

Many of Cardinal Pell’s supporters believe that he was wrongly persecuted and that his efforts to address child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church are what made him great. Mr. Abbott spoke at the funeral and claimed that Cardinal Pell was the first Australian Catholic to dismiss child abusers and report them to the police. He also pointed to the compensation scheme set up by Cardinal Pell, which was seen as a landmark, though controversial, effort.

Outside the cathedral, child abuse survivors remembered Cardinal Pell as someone who failed to protect them. Some traveled from other states to tie ribbons to the church fence as a tribute to victims of the Church abuse crisis, but most of these were cut down overnight by supporters of Cardinal Pell. A landmark inquiry into child sexual abuse in Australia found that Cardinal Pell had known of abuse by priests as early as the 1970s and had failed to act, which he disputed.

Meanwhile, protesters gathering in parkland opposite the cathedral remembered Cardinal Pell as a “monstrous bigot” and police were present to try to keep tensions under control. Cardinal Pell’s death has sparked weeks of heated debate in Australia about his legacy, with some accepting that his legacy will be mixed and that he will be remembered as a face of the sins of the Church.

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