Protesters denounced late Australian Cardinal George Pell for his “bigoted” views on Thursday, as the Catholic Church remembered his “remarkable legacy” with a grand funeral Mass in Sydney.
The Vatican power broker, who died in Rome last month aged 81, will be buried in the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral after a Pontifical Funeral Mass steeped in the traditions of the Church.
Cardinal Pell continues to divide opinion in Australia — supporters have dubbed him a “saint for our times,” while campaigners accuse him of protecting pedophile priests while a senior Church official.
Dogged by scandal in his later years, Cardinal Pell was imprisoned for 13 months for molesting two teenage boys before the convictions were overturned in 2020.
Thousands queued to enter the cathedral, while protesters across the road waved banners declaring “Pell Burn in Hell” and “Infernal Resting Place.”
Economist William Coleman, 63, said Cardinal Pell was a “good man” who had been unfairly persecuted and that the protests were “disgusting.”
Other mourners said it was important to stand up for Cardinal Pell, and questioned whether his stint in prison might have hastened his death.
Sexual abuse survivor Dianne Jacobus was among a small group tying ribbons to the cathedral gates in a symbolic show of support for Church victims.
“It’s about the children,” she told AFP.
“I was abused by a priest when I was 16. How can you glorify someone who turned a blind eye?”
Some Cardinal Pell supporters responded by draping rosary beads over the ribbons.
Community Action for Rainbow Rights organised a protest to coincide with the start of his funeral, condemning his ultraconservative stance on same-sex marriage.
Cardinal Pell once said homosexuality was a “much greater health hazard than smoking,” and refused to give communion to openly gay worshippers while archbishop of Sydney.
He also conceded the Church had “been slow to address the anguish” of sexual abuse victims and “dealt with it very imperfectly.”
Catholic Church leaders have said Cardinal Pell’s funeral will be one of the “most significant” ever held at St Mary’s Cathedral, an imposing sandstone building in the center of Sydney.
Cathedral dean Father Don Richardson has praised Cardinal Pell’s “remarkable legacy,” while Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher called him a “courageous leader.”
Australia’s former prime minister Tony Abbott, a longtime friend, has called Cardinal Pell a “saint for our times.”
From humble beginnings, Cardinal Pell climbed higher in the Catholic Church than any Australian before him.
He was elevated to cardinal in 2003, and in 2014 was put in charge of the Vatican’s finances as head of the Secretariat for the Economy.
At the time, he was considered the third-most powerful figure in the Church.