There will not be a state funeral or memorial service in Victoria or NSW for Cardinal George Pell.
Cardinal Pell, the former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, died from heart complications in Rome on Tuesday following hip surgery.
The 81-year-old was the Vatican’s top finance minister before leaving in 2017 to stand trial in Melbourne for child sexual abuse offences.
The following year, he was convicted of molesting two teenage choirboys in the sacristy of Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral while archbishop in 1996.
He maintained his innocence and in 2020 his convictions were quashed by the High Court.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, while confirming the decision against a state funeral or memorial because it would be distressing for victim-survivors, said the cardinal’s legacy would be for others to judge.
“Predator brothers and priests were systematically moved around, knowingly – it was part of a strategy – from one working-class parish to the next,” he said.
“We should never, ever forget that. We will never ever forget victim-survivors of institutional child sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church.”
It’s understood a state service will not be offered in NSW either.
A service for Cardinal Pell will be held at the Vatican in coming days and a funeral mass will follow at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. His body will be returned to Australia and buried in St Mary’s crypt.
In Ballarat, where Cardinal Pell was born and raised, nearly 50 people attended a Thursday morning mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
There, Assistant Priest Jim McKay delivered a homily remembering Cardinal Pell.
“With all of the media hoohaa” around the final years of his life, he also wanted to solemnly and humbly remember survivors of heinous abuse and their families, he said after the service.
“We especially prayed not only for not only George Pell and his own persecution of that which he suffered himself, with 405 days in prison, but especially and solemnly we indeed prayed for those affected,” he said.
He touched on how Cardinal Pell’s death triggered emotions in the community.
“There is that sense of deep sorrow again … because it really has reignited this whole paedophilia scourge,” he said.
“People in the pews are really in their own personal prayer life and at mass that they are indeed praying that the church may improve in our dealings with these matters.”
In the back row of the cathedral sat Matt, a local man going through his own abuse disclosure process – though not at the hands of the Catholic Church.
“I’m here in support of victims of what the church has done, what Pell has apologised for and played a part in, and the cover-up,” he said.
He wore a Frenzal Rhomb band T-shirt depicting Cardinal Pell in hell.
“I struggle to see any good in the man,” he said, believing Cardinal Pell’s 2002 description of abortion as being worse than child sexual abuse summed up the type of man he was.
Chaty Harris also attended the service to commemorate not only Cardinal Pell’s life, but the lives of all those who have died.
She said the Ballarat community was “a bit quiet” as members came to terms with the death of a “very familiar man” to many.
The cardinal attended local Catholic schools before going to the seminary, and after a period at the Vatican he returned as a priest in the Diocese of Ballarat in the 1970s.
He became the Melbourne archbishop in 1996 and five years later took up the same role in Sydney.
At that time, a man claimed Cardinal Pell sexually abused him in 1962 when the accuser was an altar boy. The cleric denied the allegation and in 2003 became a cardinal in the Vatican.
Pope Francis called Cardinal Pell a “faithful servant who, without vacillating, followed his Lord with perseverance even in the hour of trial”.
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