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Australians pay tribute to Cardinal Pell as state funeral ruled out

Prominent Australians have paid tribute to Cardinal George Pell as local political leaders ruled out the possibility of a state funeral.

Cardinal George Pell attends a consistory for the creation of new cardinals at St. Peter’s Basilica on Aug. 27, 2022. © Mazur/cbcew.org.uk

Prominent Australians have paid tribute to Cardinal George Pell as local political leaders ruled out the possibility of a state funeral.

While former prime ministers of the country hailed Pell as a “great son” of Australia and an important figure in the nation’s intellectual and cultural life, the premiers of two Australian states — New South Wales and Victoria — said they would not be granting state funeral honors to Pell following the cardinal’s death in Rome on Jan. 10 at the age of 81.

In Victoria — which encompasses Melbourne, whose archdiocese Pell led from 1996 to 2001 — Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed that there would be no state memorial service and linked his announcement to the clerical abuse scandals of recent decades.

“I couldn’t think of anything that would be more distressing for victim-survivors than that,” he said Jan. 12, adding that he was unlikely to attend the cardinal’s memorial.

Some sections of Australian media and society have continued to link Pell's legacy to his 2017 trial on charges of sexual abuse, despite the High Court acquitting him of all charges in 2020, after the cardinal had spent more than 400 days in solitary confinement.

But despite renewed debate about the cardinal’s record on abuse, tributes to the cardinal have poured in from across Australia, including from national political leaders.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic, said that the country had “lost a great son.” He described Pell’s imprisonment on charges of abuse and subsequent acquittal as “a modern form of crucifixion.”

“In his own way, by dealing so equably with a monstrous allegation, he strikes me as a saint for our times,” he said. “Like everyone who knew him I feel a deep sense of loss but am confident that his reputation will grow and grow and that he will become an inspiration for the ages.”

John Howard, another former prime minister, said that the cardinal’s death is an “enormous” loss for Australia.

“I liked and respected the late cardinal a lot. His passing is a great loss to the intellectual and spiritual life of our country,” he commented.

The current Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said: “For many people, particularly of Catholic faith, this will be a difficult day and I express my condolences to all those who are mourning today. This will come as a shock to many.”

Church leaders noted the cardinal’s sizable influence on Australian Catholic life.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said: “He was without doubt Australia’s most prominent ever churchman, having provided strong and clear leadership within the Catholic Church in Australia, as Archbishop of Melbourne and Archbishop of Sydney.”

“As a member of the bishops’ conference for more than 25 years, it will be for historians to assess his impact on the life of the Church in Australia and beyond, but it was considerable, and will be long-lasting.”

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said: “Cardinal Pell’s impact on the life of the Church in Australia and around the world will continue to be felt for many years.”

In New South Wales, which includes the Archdiocese of Sydney, governed by Pell from 2001 to 2014, Premier Dominic Perrottet also confirmed there would be no state funeral service.

“There will be a memorial service, and that is currently being arranged by the archdiocese,” he said. “When the time is released, we’ll provide that information in due course.”

“And I just wanted to say to the cardinal’s family our thoughts and prayers are with you at this time.”

Pell’s memorial will be held at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney and he will be buried in the crypt.

His funeral will take place in St. Peter’s Basilica on Jan. 14. It will be celebrated by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals, with Pope Francis leading the Final Commendation and Farewell.

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