By ROD McGUIRK
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Mourners paid their respects to Cardinal George Pell who lay in state in a Sydney cathedral on Wednesday as police sought a court order to prevent protesters from disrupting his funeral.
Pell, who was once the third-highest ranking cleric in the Vatican and spent more than a year in prison before his child abuse convictions were overturned in 2020, died in Rome on Jan. 10 at age 81.
The staunchly conservative church leader will lie in St. Mary’s Cathedral from Wednesday until he is interred at the cathedral crypt after a funeral Mass the following day.
The New South Wales Police Force has rejected an application from Sydney-based gay rights group Community Action for Rainbow Rights for a permit to protest outside the cathedral on Thursday due to safety concerns.
Police will apply to the New South Wales Supreme Court on Wednesday to prohibit the rally.
Deputy Commissioner David Hudson said police couldn’t reach a compromise with organizers’ protest plans.
“New South Wales Police is not opposed to the topic that the protesters wish to air. We certainly respect the right of people to be able to protest and air their voices,” Hudson told reporters.
But a “number of aspects” of the planned protest “present a risk to public safety,” Hudson said.
The gay rights group posted on social media a call for people to join what it calls its “Pell go to Hell!” protest.
“We need everybody to come out and protest on Thursday. We can’t let the police get away with denying us our right to protest this bigot’s funeral!” the group said.
Pell was an outspoken and polarizing figure throughout his church career and remains divisive in his native Australia in death.
Protesters tied ribbons in memory of victims of clergy abuse to the cathedral’s fence early Wednesday before the doors were open to the public.
“Ribbon tying on church fences has become a visual symbol of those who have suffered abuse at the hands of the church and reminder that these crimes go largely unpunished,” activists posted.
Church officials had removed such ribbons in recent days, raising accusations of disrespect toward victims. But a cathedral official told protesters on Wednesday where ribbons could be placed and where they could not, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
Pell was archbishop of Sydney from 2001 until 2014 when Pope Francis appointed him to be the first prefect of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy tasked with reforming the Vatican’s notoriously opaque finances.
Pell had been archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001, a period during which he was alleged to have sexually abused two choirboys in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He was convicted then acquitted after a second appeal.
As church leader of Melbourne and later of Sydney, Pell repeatedly refused to give Communion to gay activists wearing rainbow-colored sashes.
“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, and important consequences follow from this,” Pell told a St. Mary’s congregation in 2002 after he first refused Communion to a gay activist in Sydney.
Pell was also a lightning rod for disagreements over whether the Catholic Church has been properly held to account for past child sex abuse.
A national inquiry into institutional responses to child sex abuse found in 2017 that Pell knew of clergy molesting children in the 1970s and did not take adequate action to address it.
Pell later said in a statement he was “surprised” by the inquiry’s findings. “These views are not supported by evidence,” Pell’s statement said.
Pell and his supporters believed he was scapegoated for all the crimes of the Australian Catholic Church’s botched response to clergy sexual abuse.
Francis imparted a final blessing at Pell’s funeral Mass held at St. Peter’s Basilica on Jan. 14.
Pell’s Pontifical Requiem Mass in Sydney on Thursday will be livestreamed on the cathedral’s YouTube channel and televised on large screens on the cathedral’s forecourt to accommodate anticipated large numbers of mourners, church officials said.
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