Former Australian PM hails George Pell as a ‘saint’ as funeral of controversial cardinal sparks protests
By Angus Watson, Teele Rebane and Sophie Tanno, CNN
Cardinal George Pell remains a divisive figure even in death, with angry protests at his funeral in Sydney on Thursday and a former prime minister calling him a “saint”.
The cardinal’s funeral was held at St Mary’s Cathedral, with police forced to intervene as protesters gathered to confront mourners.
Former Australian Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard were among those attending his funeral. Abbott praised the late Cardinal Pell in a eulogy, describing him as “soldiers for the truth” and “a saint of our time” in a speech that was received to critical acclaim.
Outside, police separated supporters of Pell from people protesting the memorial to the cardinal, who was convicted of child sex abuse before the 2020 sentence was overturned.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the cathedral after Australian police dropped a court bid to block the demonstration, Reuters news agency reported. According to Reuters, speeches against Cardinal Pell and the Catholic Church were held in a nearby park, with some holding banners and chanting “George Pell go to Hell.”
Three people, two men and a woman, were arrested outside St Mary’s Cathedral, New South Wales Police said in a statement. Police said no charges had been filed against them.
Joseph Samarasinghe, one of the mourners who attended the funeral, told CNN: “We can learn from our mistakes. And I think now the Church is more aware of all the mistakes that the clergy has made. So I think we’re on the right track.”
Meanwhile, Kim Stern, organizer of the protest, said they would continue to fight against everything Cardinal Pell has stood for until there is “full equality” in Australia.
“For the politicians, the judges, the people from the political establishment who are attending the funeral service today, we want to send out a message that we will fight against everything that the Catholic Church and Pell have stood for. And keep fighting until there is full equality in this country,” he said.
Cardinal Pell was the highest-ranking Catholic official to be convicted of child sexual abuse before the sentence was overturned in 2020. He died last month at the age of 81.
Born on June 8, 1941 in the regional town of Ballarat, Australia, Pell rose through the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church to become Treasurer of the Vatican, considered by many to be the third highest position within the Church.
In that capacity, he was responsible for Pope Francis’ financial reforms from 2014 to 2019, which largely stalled when he was recalled to Australia to face allegations of past sex abuse.
Pell was convicted of those charges in 2018 and served 13 months in prison before the Australian Supreme Court overturned his conviction in April 2020.
The cardinal is a controversial figure in Australia and many on Twitter took the opportunity of his death to express their support for survivors of child sexual abuse.
The CNN Wire
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Angus Watson reported from Sydney, Teele Rebane wrote from Hong Kong and Sophie Tanno wrote from London. Hilary Whiteman, Valentina Di Donato and Tara John contributed coverage.