Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has delivered an extraordinary defence of Cardinal George Pell at his funeral, calling him a scapegoat for the failures of the Catholic church in its handling of child abuse within its ranks.
Hundreds of mourners packed Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral to farewell Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric.
Hundreds more gathered in the church’s forecourt to watch the service on large screens.
Hundreds of others protested nearby, blaming George Pell for abuse scandals during his 56 year as a priest, many in senior roles.
The requiem mass was celebrated by Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher.
He paid tribute to his friend who became the third most powerful person in the Catholic Church.
The Archbishop said Cardinal Pell was a bold and brave advocate for the Church who brought World Youth Day to Australia.
David Pell paid tribute to his brother describing him as “a prince of the church, a good and holy man and a proud Australian”.
“He believed in the rule of law, a fair goal to all, and in Aussie rules parlance, he played the ball and not the man,” he said.
“He was falsely accused, tried, convicted and spent 404 days in solitary confinement,” David Pell lamented.
But it was devout Catholic Tony Abbott who attracted loud applause from mourners inside and outside the Cathedral with a searing defence of Cardinal Pell in his eulogy.
“This funeral is less a sad farewell to a great friend and more a joyous tribute to a great hero. It’s the celebration of a wonderful life, a once-in-a-generation gathering of the people of faith to rededicate ourselves to the ideals George Pell lived for and to draw strength from each other for the struggles ahead,” he observed.
“In short, he’s the greatest Catholic Australia has produced and one of our country’s greatest sons. No one else has been both Archbishop of Melbourne and Archbishop of Sydney. No other Australian has been as senior in the leadership of the Roman Church, or as influential in its conclaves.”
“Here in Australia, he was the first archbishop to sack misbehaving clergy and report them to the police, rather than hide them in another parish.”
Mr. Abbott proclaimed: “It’s not possible to honour the Cardinal without some reference to his persecution. He was made a scapegoat for the Church itself. 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.
The former PM concluded: “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.”
Cardinal Pell was buried in the cathedral’s crypt alongside seven other former archbishops.