Pell in 'sparkling form' before death

Cardinal George Pell was in "sparkling form" when he dined with one of Australia's most senior Catholics in the week before his death.

The former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney died from heart complications in Rome on Tuesday following hip surgery.

The 81-year-old was the Vatican's top finance minister before leaving in 2017 to stand trial in Melbourne on child sexual abuse charges, for which he was jailed before his convictions were quashed.

Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher said he met and dined with Cardinal Pell last week in Rome at the funeral for Pope Benedict XVI.

"He was in sparkling form - witty and wise," Rev Fisher said during a mass held for the late pope at St Mary's Cathedral on Thursday.

"I didn't dream it would be the last time I would see him in this life."

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and his Victorian counterpart Daniel Andrews have ruled out holding state funerals for Cardinal Pell, although Mr Perrottet said a memorial would take place in Sydney.

Mr Andrews said a state funeral or memorial would be distressing for victim-survivors, but the cardinal's legacy would be for others to judge.

"Predator brothers and priests were systematically moved around, knowingly - it was part of a strategy - from one working-class parish to the next," he said.

"We will never ever forget victim-survivors of institutional child sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church."

Cardinal Pell was convicted in 2018 of molesting two teenage choirboys in the sacristy of Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral while archbishop in 1996.

He maintained his innocence and in 2020 his convictions were overturned by the High Court after he spent more than a year in prison.

A service for Cardinal Pell will be held at the Vatican in coming days and a funeral mass will follow at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney. His body will be returned to Australia and buried in St Mary's crypt.

In Ballarat, where Cardinal Pell was born and raised, almost 50 people attended a Thursday morning mass at St Patrick's Cathedral, where assistant priest Jim McKay delivered a homily to remember the cardinal.

Speaking after the service, he said he also wanted to solemnly and humbly remember survivors of heinous abuse and their families after "all the media hoo-ha" around the final years of the cardinal's life.

"We prayed not only for George Pell and his own persecution that he suffered himself, with 405 days in prison, but especially and solemnly we indeed prayed for those affected," he said.

In the back row of the cathedral sat Matt, a local man going through his own abuse disclosure process - although not at the hands of the Catholic Church.

"I'm here in support of victims of what the church has done, what Pell has apologised for and played a part in, and the cover-up," he said.

He wore a Frenzal Rhomb band T-shirt depicting Cardinal Pell in hell.

"I struggle to see any good in the man," he said.

The cardinal attended local Catholic schools before going to the seminary and, after a period at the Vatican, returned as a priest in the Diocese of Ballarat in the 1970s.

The cardinal became the Melbourne archbishop in 1996 and five years later took up the same role in Sydney.

At that time, a man claimed Cardinal Pell sexually abused him in 1962 when the accuser was an altar boy.

The cleric denied the allegation and in 2003 became a cardinal in the Vatican.

Pope Francis called Cardinal Pell a "faithful servant who, without vacillating, followed his Lord with perseverance even in the hour of trial".

The pontiff said he was grateful for Cardinal Pell's "coherent and committed" dedication to the church.

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