By Alasdair Pal and Renju Jose
SYDNEY (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Mourners and protesters clashed on Thursday in Sydney at the funeral of Australian cardinal George Pell, a former top Vatican official acquitted in 2020 of sexual abuse charges.
Australian police officials said they withdrew a court bid to block a protest after organizers agreed to alter the initial route of the demonstration and gather on a street adjacent to St Mary’s Cathedral, the site of the funeral. Hundreds took part in the protest.
Pell’s body has been lying in state since he died aged 81 in a Rome hospital last month of heart complications following hip surgery.
Thousands attended the funeral, including former Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard and Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. Hundreds more watched on large screens erected outside the cathedral.
“He is the greatest Catholic Australia has ever produced and one of our country’s greatest sons,” Abbott said during a eulogy.
“George Pell was the greatest man I ever knew.”
In a park across from the cathedral, groups of protesters, many from the LGBT community and some holding signs reading “Pell Burn In Hell,” listened to speeches against the cardinal and the Catholic Church.
“(We are here to) just show solidarity with the victims and survivors of what happened through the Catholic Church, but especially George Pell,” Layne Elbourne, a musician, told RockedBuzz via Reuters.
A small number of mourners raised their rosaries in response to the protesters’ chants, although there were no signs of physical clashes between the two groups.
Tension flared on Wednesday after some on church property were seen removing colored ribbons tied by protesters along the cathedral fence, television footage showed.
The tapes symbolized the pain inflicted on victims of child sexual abuse, protesters said.
Australia’s High Court in 2020 overturned the convictions of Pell, a leading Catholic Conservative, for sexually assaulting two choirboys in the 1990s, allowing him to walk free after 13 months in prison. Pell lived in Rome after the absolution and had several meetings with Pope Francis.
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Alasdair Pal; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)