Protesters confronted mourners with chants of “shame” outside the funeral of controversial top Vatican cardinal George Pell in Sydney on Thursday.
Pell died in Rome last month aged 81 and was buried in the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral amid angry protests and a heavy police presence.
Dogged by scandal in his later years, Pell was the highest-ranking Catholic to be imprisoned for child sexual abuse, before his convictions were overturned in 2020.
He continues to divide opinion – supporters have dubbed him a “saint for our times,” but campaigners accuse him of protecting pedophile priests while a senior Church official.
As he was laid to rest, riot police lined barricades to keep protesters away from the thousands of mourners queuing to get into the funeral.
The protesters cried “shame” while waving banners declaring “Pell Burn in Hell”.
Economist William Coleman, 63, lined up to pay his respects to Pell, who he said was a “good man” that was unfairly persecuted.
“I think it’s disgraceful to attempt to disrupt a funeral,” he told AFP. Retired lawyer Eric Ziehlke said Pell was a “wonderful churchman”. “I think he was completely innocent of the crime for which he was accused,” he told AFP. 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?”
A small group of Pell supporters draped rosary beads over the ribbons.
Community Action for Rainbow Rights organised a protest to coincide with the start of his funeral, condemning his ultraconservative views on abortion and same-sex marriage.
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.”
The charged scenes outside contrasted with the solemn ceremony unfolding within the cathedral.
Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher compared Pell to Richard the Lionheart, the medieval Crusader and King of England known as a fierce warrior.
“Twenty-three days ago, the lion’s roar was unexpectedly silenced,” Fisher said in his eulogy.
“But George, the lionheart, was dressed with the cross on his chest and ready, awaiting his master’s return.”
Australia’s former prime minister Tony Abbott, a longtime friend, said Pell was a “Christian warrior” and a “saint for our times.”
“And as I heard the chant, ‘Cardinal Pell can go to hell’, I thought at least they believe in the afterlife,” he said to applause.
From humble beginnings, 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.