Abuse survivors protest ahead of George Pell funeral: ‘Emotional day’

Protesters wishing to give a voice to sexual abuse victims tied ribbons on fences outside St Mary's Cathedral as Cardinal George Pell's body lies in state.

Sexual abuse survivors have tied hundreds of ribbons to iron fences surrounding St Mary’s Cathedral ahead of Cardinal George Pell’s funeral on Thursday.

Paul Auchettl travelled from Ballarat to Sydney to remember those who have endured suffering at the hands of Catholic clergy. “I am a survivor and my brother was too, but he ended his life,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“Today is an emotional day. The act of tying a ribbon on a fence brings up everything you’re holding. It’s a good thing in a way in that it encourages people to talk, but it brings up the grief and pain.”

A photo of Survivor Paul Auchettl who was at St Mary’s to remember those who had been harmed by childhood sexual abuse. A photo of police standing at the front of St Mary’s while protesters gather.
Survivor Paul Auchettl was at St Mary’s to remember those who had been harmed by childhood sexual abuse. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

Many of the ribbons were cut down by security on Wednesday morning, an act childhood sexual abuse survivor Nicky Davis describes as “butchering” them.

“It’s important for our voices to be heard," she said. "It’s about survivors having hope, it’s about survivors having a positive voice and doing something that’s beautiful… the Catholic Church should be thanking us for decorating.”

Abuse survivor Trevor Coad was tying ribbons as part of a process to remember and heal with other victims. “We’re able to give a voice to those who no longer have a voice,” he said.

After speaking with Yahoo News Australia, Mr Coad walked to his favourite part of the protest, where ribbons were rustling loudly in the wind. Smiling, he outstretched his arms and said “How good is this?”

“These ribbons are talking, you can hear them… every ribbon has a voice,” he said.

After ribbons were removed, some protesters were seen defiantly placing them back up again, as well as using zip ties to steadfastly secure them.

Who was Cardinal George Pell?

Following hip surgery, Cardinal Pell died suddenly from heart complications in Rome on January 10, leaving behind a divisive legacy.

The 81-year-old former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney is Australia’s most high-ranking Catholic and The Vatican's third most powerful man.

Born in Ballarat, Victoria on June 8, 1941, Cardinal Pell was first ordained as a priest at St Peter’s Basilica in 1966 in Vatican City. Having succeeded Sir Frank Little as the Melbourne archbishop in 1996, he then moved to Sydney five years later, when reports of sexual abuse allegations started to surface, which he denied.

A photo of the front of St Mary's. Another photo of ribbons floating in the wind on the gates of St Mary’s. A third photo of survivor Trevor Coad standing at the front of St Mary's with ribbons behind him on the gate.
As preparations began for George Pell’s funeral (left), Trevor Coad (right) stood among the ribbons in front of St Mary’s. Source: Michael Dahlstrom
A photo of a survivor tying a ribbon to the gates of St Mary’s. A photo of survivor Nicky Davis (right) at St Mary’s.
Survivors including Nicky Davis (right) have tied ribbons to the gates of St Mary’s. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

Despite the controversies, in 2003 he was offered the senior rank of cardinal at the Vatican by the pope — a title he would hold for life.

In December, 2018 Cardinal Pell was convicted of sexually abusing two teenage choirboys at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1966 — a crime he would spend 400 days in jail for. But in 2020, the convictions were quashed on appeal to the High Court. Weeks later, Cardinal Pell was also found by a powerful Royal Commission inquiry to be covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests and Christian Brothers in 1973.

The cover-ups and allegations have meant Cardinal Pell is not looked at favourably by many, with his death and funeral bringing up pain for survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church.

Yahoo News Australia reached out to the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney for comment about the protests and why ribbons were being cut by St Mary’s Cathedral's security guards.

Police attempt to stop Cardinal Pell protest

On Wednesday, NSW Police worked to block LGBT activists from rallying outside St Mary's Cathedral during Cardinal Pell's funeral procession, citing public safety concerns.

Demonstrators later agreed to alter the protest route and a Supreme Court bid to block it was withdrawn. Cardinal Pell's body is lying in state at St Mary's Cathedral on Wednesday ahead of a requiem mass and the associated protest on Thursday.

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with AAP

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