Angry protesters disrupted the solemn funeral for scorned cardinal George Pell at Sydney’s St. Mary’s cathedral on Thursday, yelling “Pell, burn in hell” so loud it drowned out the funeral mass inside.
“Pell stood for blatant homophobia, misogyny,” protest organizer Kim Stern told the BBC. “We think it’s pretty disgusting he’s getting a send-off like this.”
One protest organizer told The Guardian that it was “pretty grotesque that someone who’s an arch defender of homophobia, sexism, who said abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests abusing children, gets to have a celebration of his life.”
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivered the eulogy to cheers inside the massive church and howls of anger outside. “This funeral is less a sad farewell to a great friend and more a joyous tribute to a great hero,” Abbott said, according to a transcript of his speech. “He’s the greatest Catholic Australia has ever produced, and one of our country’s greatest sons.”
He added, “There should be Pell study courses, Pell spirituality courses, Pell lectures, Pell high schools, and Pell University colleges. Just as there are for the other saints.”
Pell, who was also given a flashy funeral inside St. Peter’s basilica attended by Pope Francis in Rome, was convicted in 2018 of sexually abusing two choir boys in a Melbourne cathedral in the 1990s. After spending more than a year in solitary confinement, his conviction was overturned on appeal in 2020.
A Royal Commission also found Pell culpable of decades of cover-ups during the time he led the Melbourne diocese. He was never criminally charged with a crime relating to the cover-up, and he was welcomed back to Rome despite the serious findings.
After the Catholic ceremony, protesters clashed with mourners over ribbons abuse survivors had hung on the wrought iron gates with the names of victims of sex abuse. Supporters of Pell tried to tear away the ribbons, angering the protesters. Many protesters hurled insults at the mourners, referring to Pell as a “monstrous bigot” who harmed the church more than he helped it.
A demonstrator described the scene to ABC News. “They came at us from both sides and were screaming profanities and were cutting the ribbons from behind us as we tied them,” she said.
At least one protest sign was confiscated by police, and several arrests had been made as of Thursday morning.