‘Enough is enough’: George Pell’s funeral marks ‘historic’ and difficult day for survivors

George Pell's funeral at St Mary's Cathedral

Cardinal George Pell has been laid to rest, but survivors say their pain and anger continues.

As mourners streamed into Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral for Thursday’s funeral mass, protesters gathered across the street in Hyde Park, mingling – sometimes uncomfortably – with hundreds of mourners who had gathered outside to watch the mass.

Protesters addressed the crowd to voice their anger at Cardinal Pell’s political views and his role in covering up sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

Among those who spoke was Vivienne Moore, a survivor of child sexual assault. She said Thursday’s funeral for Australia’s most senior Catholic figure, and also one of the Church’s most divisive, was an “important day in history”.

Pictured are protesters outside George Pell's funeral

People gathered outside St Mary’s Cathedral, where George Pell’s funeral was held. Photo: TND

“This is the day we come together to protest, to remember, to tell the truth and to start healing,” she said.

Ms Moore said she did not use the term “survivor” lightly, saying her’s had been an incredibly difficult journey – while a passerby heckled her.

“I was here yesterday to remember my friends that haven’t survived their childhood sexual assault, the institutional assault, my queer friends that have killed themselves – this is murder,” Ms Moore said.

A ‘scapegoat’ for the Catholic Church

Among those who spoke at Thursday’s requiem mass was former prime minister and friend of Cardinal Pell, Tony Abbott. He called the Cardinal a “scapegoat for the church”.

“He should never have been investigated in the absence of a complaint,” Mr Abbott said, as the cathedral erupted with applause.

“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.”

Tony Abbott delivers a eulogy for Cardinal Pell

Police, protesters agree on route

Cardinal Pell’s legacy went beyond him covering up abuse within the church, some people said, to include his conservative political views and his association with many high-profile figures in Australia.

Thursday’s protest was organised by LGBTI group Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR) and was allowed to go ahead after organisers and police settled on a route change.

Speaking to The New Daily, one of the organisers, Kim Stern, said the group was “determined” to assert its democratic right to protest against the funeral.

“I think lots of people are outraged that someone who stood for anti-abortion politics, against gay marriage, covered up child abuse within the Catholic Church is getting the send-off like he is,” Mr Stern said.

The speakers at the protest acknowledged the issue wasn’t just Cardinal Pell, but the systems that allowed abuse and oppression.

Not only were survivors acknowledged, but members of the LGBTQ community who were affected by the Cardinal’s opposition to gay marriage.

Cardinal Pell’s stance that abortion was “worse” than sexual abuse was also condemned outside the cathedral.

Cardinal Pell’s position that abortion was “worse” than sexual abuse was also condemned. Photo: Getty

People stand in solidarity

Many of the protesters and a large rainbow flag eventually went past the cathedral to Taylor Square, leaving behind a handful of people holding colourful ribbons.

Thousands of the ribbons had been attached to the cathedral’s gates in memory of those who suffered sexual abuse by clergy – only to be removed overnight.

Tensions flared briefly when some mourners tried to take down other ribbons tied to a small area of cathedral fence where the church had allowed them to be displayed.

Police watched on from the road as one woman tied ribbons to the makeshift fence and a man dressed in a black suit approached her.

He told the woman he “loved” the mass and asked the woman if she would be willing to convert, asking if she had the ability to save herself.

Pictured are protestors outside George Pell's funeral.

Protesters marched from St Mary’s Cathedral to Taylor Square. Photo: TND

Among those left at Hyde Park standing opposite the cathedral was Rob, who did not give his last name. He said he was there to show solidarity with survivors and those who had been ostracised for speaking out.

He said showing opposition to Cardinal Pell’s funeral was not anti-Christian or inherently political, but rather a display that “enough is enough”.

“Whether or not you believe that Pell was innocent, the Royal Commission [into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse] still found him guilty of cover-up as a leader. He kept quiet,” Rob told The New Daily.

Pictured are ribbons that were tied to the fence opposite St Mary's Cathedral.

People tied ribbons to the temporary fence opposite St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: TND

He said within any other institution, whether the police or business, if someone kept quiet as Cardinal Pell did they would have been sacked, at the very least.

“But within the church, an institution that’s meant to preach and protect their flock, they expose them to – however small a percentage – dangerous people instead of ousting them and ridding themselves,” Rob said.

Pictured is a woman holding a sign outside of George Pell's funeral, saying victims of sexual assault within the church who died by suicide did not get a mass at a cathedral.

People expressed their concern for survivors and victims of sexual assault within the Catholic Church. Photo: TND

Demonstrations weren’t just seen in Sydney on Thursday.

In Melbourne, Chrissie Foster was among those who tied ribbons on a church fence, to symbolise the ongoing fight for justice.

Two of Ms Foster’s daughters were raped while attending Sacred Heart Primary School in Oakleigh in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“They all protected paedophiles,” Ms Foster told reporters.

Her daughters Emma and Katie Foster were raped by Father Kevin O’Donnell while Cardinal Pell oversaw their parish as bishop for the southern region of Melbourne.

Katie used alcohol as a teenager and was left with life-altering injuries when she was hit by a car in 1999.

Emma died in 2008 after taking a fatal dose of medication.

“There were so many victims of the church that people seem to forget about when they’re saying what a great man he was,” said Cathie Shields, whose children also went to Sacred Heart Primary School. 

“It’s just this dark cloud that hangs over everybody.”

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