“Pell Go to Hell”: Cardinal to Be Buried in Sydney But Protestors Won’t Let Him Go Quietly

cardinal pell protest sydney

The late Cardinal, George Pell, Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic and one of the most powerful people in the Church, is set to be sent off into the great beyond on Thursday. This will be his second funeral, after the one he already had in the Vatican, presided over by Pope Francis.

The Earthly remains of the controversial Cardinal, who was convicted and then acquitted of child sexual abuse, will lie in state in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney from 9:30am Wednesday, February 1. There will be a mass to pay tribute to Pell on Thursday, after which he will be buried in a private ceremony in the cathedral crypt.

Screens will be erected so that mourners can see the mass proceedings as thousands are expected to turn out. So too are protestors, who are not willing to allow the Cardinal to be sent off without a full and complete telling of his life story.

One such group, Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR), is organising a “Pell Go to Hell” march to be held at the same time as his requiem mass on Thursday. Just over a hundred people have responded to the Facebook event, however, the organisers have said that they’re expecting “hundreds of people, at least” to the protest.

NSW Police sought a court order to prevent the protest from taking place, citing “safety concerns,” however they have since said that a compromise has been reached with the protesters. CARR’s march will now walk to College Street but not up it.

Josh Pallas, President of the NSW council for Civil Liberties, has said that the actions of the authorities amount to “tone policing” and are a “blatant misuse of the court process”.

Activists are criticising Pell’s legacy of homophobia and say that the whitewashing of his actions in the wake of his passing is what has sparked the reaction and the pushback.

The darker side of Pell’s history is something the Catholic Church has been battling against since the death of the Cardinal on January 10 at the age of 81 from hip surgery complications. At St Mary’s, ribbons tied to the railings of the fence symbolising and representing victims of institutional child sexual abuse, have been removed multiple times since Sunday.

One group of survivors and supporters from Ballarat, the country Victoria town of Pell’s birth, have said that ribbons they have tied to the church have been removed four times over a 48-hour period. They have also been verbally attacked by Pell’s supporters.

“They hold George Pell in such high regard. And that’s OK because he did do good things, but we believe to honour him properly, we have to be able to talk about the legacy he’s left,” Paul Auchettl told the ABC.

“So many people, as reported by the royal commission, have been harmed by his inaction and inability to move on the offenders he was constantly warned about.”

Francis Sullivan, the former head of the Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council, has said that cutting the ribbons is an attempt by the organisation to distance Pell from child sexual abuse and to ensure his funeral is not overshadowed by the controversy.

Sullivan led the church’s response to the royal commission into child abuse and has said that this kind of response is typical.

“Here we go again,” he told The Guardian. “When it comes to child sexual abuse, the Catholic church has demonstrated propensity to either go silent or give limited information or to try to minimise the impact.”

On Wednesday, at a planned event for survivors, the railings of St Mary’s were covered in ribbons. With media present, the church negotiated with the group, saying ribbons will be allowed to remain.

Even within the Catholic Church, Pell was a divisive figure. His staunch, ultra-conservative views were seen in some sectors as holding the church back from modernising and potentially turning people away. Since his passing, progressive Catholics have made a push for modernisation within the church.

On the same day that Pell will be buried, the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform will meet to support Pope Francis’ commitment to a more inclusive church with a less hierarchical leadership structure. The meeting was set up a while back and just so happened to fall on this date, but it’s something that Pell was heavily opposed to.

Although the church appears intent on controlling the narrative around Pell and his legacy, it’s clear that the world, both inside and outside of their organisation and influence, is not about to let the late Cardinal go quietly.

Related: Anthony Albanese, the Queen, George Pell, and How Power Wields People

Related: The System Failed Those Victimised by George Pell — Now They’ll Never Have Justice

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