In 2017, Pell left Rome for Australia to defend his innocence of charges that he had sexually abused two 13-year-old boys after Sunday Mass in Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.
He was convicted in 2018. After 404 days in prison, the cardinal was acquitted in 2020, when Australia’s High Court unanimously overturned Pell’s conviction.
That same year a Royal Commission report on sexual abuse made public its findings on Pell, including claims that he was aware of sexual abuse by clerics in the 1970s and 80s, and failed to act. Pell rejected the claims as “not supported by evidence.”
He returned to live in Rome later in 2020.
Fisher said the cardinal marked “404 days spent in prison for a crime he did not commit” despite “media, police, and political campaign to punish him whether guilty or no.”
Pell’s brother David said the family “knew that it was not true.”
“We had to be stoic against the relentless campaign to smear George’s life, especially with the youngest members of our family,” he said.
At the same time, Pell’s brother noted the cardinal’s “magnificent” prison diaries that resulted from his imprisonment. He thanked Catholic and non-Catholic supporters of Pell, including those who had sent more than 4,000 letters of support. Some letters came from Pell’s former fellow prisoners.
“We sympathize with the legitimate victims and are in complete abhorrence of the criminals. Our own family has not been immune to this evil,” David Pell said. It is “simply untrue” to say he lacked sympathy for victims, said Pell’s brother, contending the cardinal was “unjustly convicted for his predecessors’ failings.”
Pell’s brother said he and his family had “no idea of the evil curse that was perpetrated upon the innocent children of unaware parents, by secretive, deviant, and manipulative criminals.”
He also recalled his brother’s happiness to serve as archbishop of Sydney.
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“He was at home here. He loved Sydney, and gauging by the outpouring of love as he laid in state and today, Sydney loved him.”
About 2,000 people arrived at the cathedral’s forecourt to secure a seat inside. Many stayed and took part in Mass even though they could not enter the cathedral.
Leading dignitaries in attendance included former Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbot and Peter Dutton, leader of the opposition Liberal Party. Current Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet both sent representatives.
Abbot spoke at the funeral about Pell’s place in Australia, calling him “one of our greatest sons.” He suggested the late cardinal was “made a scapegoat for the Church itself,” the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported. On Jan. 14. Pope Francis presided over the rite of Final Commendation and Farewell.
About 150 protesters critical of Cardinal Pell and Catholicism gathered outside. Some bore banners saying the cardinal should “burn in hell.” Four or five mourners objected strongly to some protesters and police intervened and arrested one man carrying a rainbow umbrella, The Catholic Weekly reported.
David Pell said the cardinal was a friend of Pope Francis and was greeted by the pope in the Apostolic Palace after he returned to Rome from prison.