George Pell funeral: hundreds protest outside St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney
Hundreds of people have marched in protest outside Cardinal George Pell’s funeral service at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, with heated exchanges between his detractors and admirers.
Campaign group Community Action for Rainbow Rights (Carr) planned the protest through Sydney to the cathedral on the day of Pell’s requiem mass, in condemnation of his opposition to same-sex marriage and women’s rights, and his failure to protect children from widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic church.
“We’re protesting against Cardinal Pell’s funeral service happening right behind us, where people like Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott are coming out to celebrate the life of a vile bigot [and] homophobic sexist, [who] covered up abuse,” Kim Stern, a Carr organiser, said.
In the morning, protesters were gathering at Archibald fountain as mourners proceeded into the cathedral across the road.
In Hyde Park, protesters stood by barricades of police, holding signs saying “Forget Pell, remember the children,” and as church bells sounded, protest organiser Eddie Stephenson spoke to the crowd in the park.
Related: George Pell funeral: Tony Abbott praises cardinal as a ‘saint for our times’ and rails against child abuse charges
“We are gathered here to give him the send off we know he deserves,” she said. “A send-off that says ‘Pell, rot in hell.’”
Protesters responded by shouting “shame”, “monster” and “scum”.
But before the march began, funeral attenders grew aggravated at the sight of protesters on College Street.
On one side of the street, protesters held up signs saying “Pell burn in hell” and “infernal resting place”.
On the other side of the road, a group of mourners shouted back: “Stop attacking our church,” “We want that taken down” and “You don’t belong here.” One attender in the group waved a poster saying “Anti-Catholic bigotry must end.”
Stand-off across College St between #Pell protestors and funeral attendees
Attendees are getting aggravated, shouting “stop attacking our Church” and “we want that taken down” to protestors holding signs across the road from the cathedral. pic.twitter.com/coo2Le3VTM
— Rafqa Touma (@At_Raf_) February 1, 2023
Between the opposing groups, police presence increased, and the march did not advance without pushback.
Protesters began moving towards College Street, holding up a giant rainbow flag and shouting “George Pell go to hell, take Dutton there as well.”
Though they moved along a modified route agreed upon yesterday – after NSW police backed away from an attempt to ban the campaign group from marching on the street outside the funeral – groups of mourners stood outside the cathedral facing protesters in resistance.
Among them, a group of men stood holding religious books, with fists and holy beads raised.
The fence at St Mary’s Cathedral had been stripped bare of thousands of ribbons tied in a protest intended to give voice to survivors of abuse at the hands of clergymen. Protest organisers said an unknown group arrived the night before the funeral to remove the ribbons.
Before and after of the same spot at St Mary’s Cathedral. Yesterday the fence was a blanket of colour, today only a few ribbons remain. @natasha__may pic.twitter.com/caDLEP7QXz
— Bertin Huynh 黄嘉麒 (@bertinhuynh) February 1, 2023
Pell supporters also pushed into the marchers. One supporter chanted at protesters: “George Pell is with Jesus!”
She was met with heckling as the march continued towards Oxford Street.
The anti-#Pell protests have come to a close on Oxford St, and child sex abuse survivor Vivienne Moore says she is overwhelmed with pride.
“We stamped our mark today. We need to be heard. It is how we are going to heal.” pic.twitter.com/YnMNBdTMOG
— Rafqa Touma (@At_Raf_) February 2, 2023
Before Thursday’s service, Pell’s personal secretary compared the planned protests to a “tsunami of hate”, and dismissed criticism as “less than a ripple when viewed from the perspective of the global church”.
Related: A ‘Lionheart’ to some, a villain to others – George Pell’s funeral proves as divisive as his life
As the anti-Pell protest drew to a close on Oxford Street, protesters remained impassioned. Indira felt “so honoured” to be protesting.
“In many more homophobic countries such as China and Russia, you don’t get this kind of opportunity,” they said.
And child sexual abuse survivors such as Vivienne Moore reflected back with pride.
“People don’t know what they’re doing unless we start to tell our stories,” she said. “People can’t begin to empathise with each other. So I think it was an incredibly successful march … because we stamped our mark today.
“Today I was really glad I got to express some of my anger. That was powerful and palpable for all of us.
“Anger is part of the grieving process and propels us forward … Used in the right way, with the right voice, we can care about each other through it … It’s like you’re not alone.”