Australian Cardinal Pell’s funeral marked by arrival of protesters, mourners

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Protesters gathered and mourners began to arrive in Sydney on Thursday ahead of the funeral service of Australian Cardinal George Pell, a former top Vatican official who was acquitted in 2020 of sexual abuse accusations.

Australian police said it had dropped a court bid to block the gathering after protesters agreed to change their initial protest route and gather in a road adjacent to St Mary’s Cathedral, the venue of the funeral service. Pell’s body has lain in state since he died at the age of 81 in a Rome hospital last month from heart complications after a hip surgery. Thousands of people are expected to attend the funeral, including former prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard, and federal opposition leader Peter Dutton.

On Thursday morning, protesters gathered in a park opposite the cathedral, some holding signs reading “Pell Burn In Hell”.

“(We’re here to) just show solidarity with the victims and the survivors of what’s happened through the Catholic Church, but particularly George Pell,” Layne Elbourne, a musician, told. Tensions had flared on Wednesday after some inside the church property were seen removing colourful ribbons tied by protesters along the fence of the cathedral, television footage showed.

The ribbons symbolised the pain inflicted on child sexual abuse victims, the protesters said.

An Australian appeals court ruling in 2020 quashed the convictions of Pell, a leading Roman Catholic conservative, for sexually assaulting two choir boys in the 1990s, allowing him to walk free after 13 months in prison. Pell lived in Rome after the acquittal and had several meetings with Pope Francis.