George Pell Funeral: LGBT Protestors Clash With Mourners Outside St Mary’s Cathedral

Warning: This article deals with an account of rape/sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.

St Mary’s Cathedral was expecting thousands of mourners on Thursday to fill the forecourt of Sydney’s largest Catholic building. While the square was loosely packed with a few hundred people coming to pay their respects to the late Cardinal George Pell, there were also hundreds of protesters in Hyde Park just across the street.

Representatives from Community Action for Rainbow Rights managed to secure their right to protest the memorial service for the 81-year-old Cardinal, the former Archbishop of Sydney, after a last-minute negotiation with the NSW Police. The force had applied for a court order to restrict the protests citing security concerns, but the Supreme Court granted the group the right to gather.

Protestors began to gather at around 10 am this morning, unfurling banners expressing their disgust and anger with Pell’s perceived complicity with child sexual abuse within the Catholic clergy in Australia, as well as his comments on homosexuality and climate change.

“Friends and supporters of the arch bigot and monster, George Pell, are gathered here to give him the send-off that they think he deserves,” one of the CARR organisers told the gathered crowd in Hyde Park.

“We are gathered here today to give him the send-off that we know he deserved.”

“George Pell, rot in hell and take your vile politics, your homophobia, your sexism, and your complicity in the systematic abuse of the Catholic Church there with you.”

Image: The Latch

Meanwhile, on the other side of the street, separated by a wall of police and metal barriers, hundreds of mourners were gathered, singing hymns and watching the proceedings of the funeral take place on large mounted screens.

Former Prime Minister John Howard and the Opposition Leader Peter Dutton were in attendance, with speeches and readings given by the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, and Australian Catholic University’s Dr Michael Casey.

Fisher spoke about Pell’s “404 days in solitary confinement” as an “extended spiritual retreat.” This is in reference to the time Pell spent in prison when he was convicted of the molestation of two young boys. His conviction was later overturned, with supporters claiming that legal action was entirely a fabricated attack on him as a man of faith.

As the protest began to march, along the agreed-upon route established and flanked by police, the group chanting “Pell go to hell” and waving pride flags came into close contact with the mourners in the Cathedral square.

Some rushed to the police line, clutching rosary beads and crucifixes, with one man shouting, “you’re all going to hell, you’re all going to hell,” at the passing protestors. Others demanded the police do more to move the protestors on, claiming that it was their job to protect them while they were praying.

One person was arrested after following the protest as it made its way up Oxford Street and into Taylor Square. However, it was a largely peaceful affair despite the simmering tensions on both sides.

Survivors and Supporters Covered St Mary’s Cathedral in Ribbons on Wednesday

Outside, on the railings around St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, a quiet group of survivors and supporters tie coloured ribbons. By 8 am on Wednesday morning, much of the fencing wrapping around the towering sandstone was awash in multi-coloured streamers.

Many had travelled far to be here today, some from the country Victoria city of Ballarat, to speak their truth about the legacy and the actions of one man at the head of an institution that was supposed to keep children safe.

“There are thousands, based on social media, that aren’t able to be here today – for whatever reason,” one survivor told The Latch.

The ribbons are a symbol of survival and memorial that began in Ballarat seven years ago. Today, fences in Newcastle, Brisbane, Perth, Geelong, and Melbourne, as well as Ballarat and Sydney, are flying with ribbons representing the voices of those abused by institutions of power in this country. Institutions, of course, like the Catholic Church.

Image: The Latch

On Wednesday, the body of George Pell was brought to St Mary’s Cathedral from Rome where it will lie in state before a public memorial service on Thursday. Pell will then be buried in St Mary’s crypt in a private ceremony.

NSW Police applied for a court order to keep the CARR protest away from the funeral and it’s expected that there will be a significant security presence as state and religious leaders attend the service.

However, those tying the ribbons don’t want to fight, they simply want to be seen and acknowledged. They say their experiences cannot be ignored while the eulogy is given for Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic – their stories are inextricably bound to his legacy.

Survivors have been in Sydney since Sunday, patiently tying ribbons to the cathedral fence as members of staff come and routinely cut them down.

That was the case this morning when those inside the church realised the number of ribbons tied in the early hours — and the number of cameras present. Some ribbons were removed, even as survivors tied them on, but it quickly became apparent that taking them down would cause a scene and the general manager of the cathedral stated that ribbons would be left up on the front and around College Street as far as the side entrance of the building.

“It’s a major win,” one survivor told us. Although, they tempered this by saying that without media presence, “there would have been confrontation”.

The group state that they have endured attacks over their time in Sydney, both from staff and from members of the public. In one incident, an “ultra-conservative” religious man came and screamed at them, inches from their faces and told them they were “weak,” according to the group.

But this isn’t the experience on Wednesday morning. Instead, many remarked how “peaceful” and “respectful” the event was, despite the quiet tears from more than a few present, including those passing by.

Image: The Latch

The ribbons may not be there by Pell’s memorial on Thursday but, for the survivors, having this moment to gather, share their stories, and stand in solidarity with one another was a source of comfort in the face of monstrous injustice and the weight of history.

“I have friends who find it difficult to get together with another friend and talk about this stuff. I know it’s only small numbers here today, but this, for us, is huge.”

If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) the National Sexual Assault, domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service.

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

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

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