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SYDNEY (ChurchMilitant.com) - On Thursday, Australian Catholics gathered to mourn the passing of a prelate, while leftist protestors derided him.
The requiem Mass for Cdl. George Pell took place at St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney and was celebrated by Abp. Anthony Fisher, Pell's successor. Thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics came to pay their respects to the cardinal, while hundreds of picketers and protestors caused a scene across the street.
In his homily, Fisher declared, "While he rose to international prominence and roles, the cardinal remained very much an Australian to the end."
Comparing Pell to St. Francis de Sales, he further observed, "The cardinal was an erudite preacher and public commentator, admired and hated for his willingness to contend with the culture on behalf of Christ and His Church."
Speaking of Pell's 404-day imprisonment on false abuse charges that the High Court of Australia ultimately and scathingly overturned, Fisher said:
Jesus told His disciples not to be surprised if the world hated them, as it had hated Him first. Persecution and suffering would be their opportunity to give witness. And so the cardinal accepted his fate with equanimity and forgiveness. Forbidden even to say Mass privately in his cell, he found a new apostolate, fulfilling Jesus' call to visit and proclaim mercy to prisoners as he corresponded with inmates from his cell.
Pell was indeed hated, and despite the thousands gathered to mourn his passing, detractors were gathered outside.
The majority of protestors outside the great cardinal's funeral were LGBT activists who insisted Pell was a "bigot." Numerous signs bore variations of "George Pell, go to Hell," which was even emblazoned across cars.
As Pell's casket was processed out of St. Mary's Cathedral, protestors blared the song "Highway to Hell." A group of local so-called comedians carried around a cardboard coffin filled with "evidence," making jokes about covering up clerical sex abuse. Police prevented the hooligans from disrupting the funeral.
Protesters chanted the phrase "George Pell, go to Hell," with some adding "Take Dutton there as well," referring to opposition leader and conservative politician Peter Dutton. Although not a Catholic, Dutton attended the funeral to pay his respects, explaining that Pell "contributed a lot, particularly to Catholic education and to the church otherwise."
A minority of protestors were clerical sex abuse victims and advocates. Pell was one of the first bishops in the world to implement standards for dealing with clerical sex abuse, compensating victims with the 1996 Melbourne Response — six years before The Boston Globe made international news with its Spotlight report on clerical sex abuse and its cover-up.
He also served under then-Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body responsible for investigating abuse claims. Pell's 2018 conviction on false child sex abuse charges was ultimately overturned by Australia's High Court in a scathing and historic move. The court noted that there was "a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof."
Despite all this, protestors still smeared Pell as, if not an abuser himself, then at least an abuse enabler. Pell was denied a state funeral by Victoria's fake-Catholic Premier Dan Andrews, who insisted on dismissing the high court's landmark acquittal of the cardinal.
Inside St. Mary's Cathedral, over 200 priests and bishops gathered, surrounded by thousands of Catholics and fellow mourners — so many, in fact, that they spilled out of the cathedral and into the street.
Hymns chosen for the Mass were selected from across Pell's own career, including from his installations as archbishop of Melbourne and later as archbishop of Sydney. Famed composer Sir James MacMillan, who composed the funeral anthem for Queen Elizabeth II, jumped at the opportunity to write a motet for the Mass.
Pell's brother David remarked, "George Pell was my brother; he was a prince of the Church, a good and holy man — and a proud Australian."
He recalled amusing anecdotes from visiting the cardinal in prison and recounted the cheering that rang out amongst inmates when Pell's acquittal was announced on television. He bid his brother farewell saying, "You have fought the good fight. Help us to accept the baton. Rest in peace."
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott — himself a conservative Catholic and a close friend of Pell's, to whom he refers as a mentor — also paid tribute to the cardinal:
This funeral is less a sad farewell to a great friend and more a joyous tribute to a great hero. ... He was a priest, a bishop, and a prefect of a Vatican secretariat, but he was never a mere functionary. In each of these roles, a thinker, a leader, a Christian warrior and a proud Australian who wanted our country and our civilization to succeed. ... He's the greatest Catholic Australia has produced and one of our country's greatest sons.
Abbott lauded the cardinal's bold opposition to leftist ideologies, like what the former PM called the "cult" of climate change, and noted Pell's tireless defense of the Church, "He called a draft Vatican document further eroding the apostolic tradition 'a toxic nightmare.' He was never one to mince his words. To the smug, to the venal, to the lazy, to the wayward and to the intellectually sloppy, he was an existential reproach."
Speaking at the funeral, the former prime minister addressed Pell's humble, courageous and patient suffering under persecution and wrongful imprisonment:
It's not possible to honor the cardinal without some reference to his persecution. ... He should never have been investigated in the absence of a complaint; he should never have been charged in the absence of corroborating evidence, and he should never have been convicted in the absence of a plausible case, as the high court so resoundingly made plain. ... His greatest triumph, in fact, was not to have held the highest ecclesiastical offices of any Australian, but to have kept his faith in circumstances which must have screamed, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' Not to succumb to anger, self-pity or despair, when almost any other human would and instead to have accepted this modern-day crucifixion, walking humbly in the footsteps of Our Lord; that's the heroic virtue that makes him, to my mind, a saint for our times.
Referring to the protestors outside, Abbott quipped, "As I heard the chant 'Cdl. Pell should go to Hell,' I thought, 'Aha! At least they now believe in the afterlife.' Perhaps this is St. George Pell's first miracle."
In his concise manner, Abp. Fisher managed to both describe Cdl. Pell and pray for his soul when he said, "He was a lion of the Church ... God grant an eternal reward to this man of an idea, who loved his Lord and served his Church, shamelessly, vehemently, courageously to the end."