Two Australian state governments will not offer taxpayer-funded public funerals for Cardinal George Pell, with the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, saying his decision was made out of respect for victims of institutional child sexual abuse.
The nation’s most senior Catholic, who was a former archbishop of both Melbourne and Sydney, died on Wednesday morning (AEDT) from heart complications arising from hip replacement surgery in Rome. He was 81.
Speaking in Melbourne on Thursday Andrews offered his condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Pell, acknowledging it would be a “sad time” for them.
But he said victims of institutional child sexual abuse remained “foremost” in his thoughts.
“We see you, we believe you, we support you and you’re at the centre of not only our thoughts, not only our words, but our actions,” Andrews said.
“We should never ever forget that predator brothers and priests were systematically moved around knowingly. It was part of a strategy from one working-class parish to the next.
“We should never ever forget that, and we will never ever forget victims, survivors of institutional child sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic church.”
Andrews said there had been no request made for a state funeral service, which is funded by the Victorian government, nor would one be offered to Pell.
“I don’t believe that there’s been a request made and these things are normally offered rather than asked for and there will be no offer made,” he said.
“There will be no memorial service or state funeral because I think that would be a deeply, deeply distressing thing for every victim-survivor of Catholic church child sexual abuse. That is my view. I will not do that.
“I couldn’t think of anything that would be more distressing for victim-survivors than that.”
While the New South Wales premier, Dominic Perrottet, has yet to speak publicly about Pell’s death, the Guardian understands that he has also ruled out offering a state funeral to the cardinal in Sydney.
Pell is to be buried in the crypt at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney alongside other senior figures in the Catholic church in Australia.
Andrews refused to be drawn on Pell’s legacy, or the comments of the federal opposition leader, Peter Dutton, who said the cardinal had been a victim of “political persecution”.
Dutton laid blame for Pell’s overturned child sexual abuse conviction at the hands of the Andrews government.
In 2018, Pell was convicted of molesting two choir boys in the sacristy at St Patrick’s Cathedral while he was archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.
Pell always maintained his innocence and his convictions were quashed in a unanimous decision in the high court in 2020. He served 13 months in jail before being released.
“On his passing, the fact he spent a year in prison for a conviction that the high court of Australia unanimously quashed should provide some cause for reflection for the Victorian Labor government and its institutions that led this modern-day political persecution,” Dutton said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
Andrews said he would not “dignify” Dutton’s “commentary” with a response.
Pell was born and raised in Ballarat, about 110km west of Melbourne, and returned to the town to begin his career as a priest in the local diocese in the late 1960s.
The town has the unfortunate distinction of being a hotspot of historic sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, with a royal commission hearing in 2015 that up to 14 priests in Ballarat had sexually abused children and that there had been at least 130 claims and substantiated complaints since 1980.
Survivor groups estimate more than 50 suicides in the town are linked to historic sexual abuse by priests.
The royal commission found Pell knew about child abuse, particularly within the Victorian diocese of Ballarat, as early as 1973 and failed to hold clergy to account for their crimes or stop their offending.
It was also critical of the Melbourne Response, a scheme set up by Pell when he became archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 which initially capped compensation for victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy to $50,000. It was abolished in 2021.
He remained in the position until 2001, when he was elevated to archbishop of Sydney before becoming a cardinal.
• In Australia, children, young adults, parents and teachers can contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or Bravehearts on 1800 272 831, and adult survivors can contact Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380. In the UK, the NSPCC offers support to children on 0800 1111, and adults concerned about a child on 0808 800 5000. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) offers support for adult survivors on 0808 801 0331. In the US, call or text the Childhelp abuse hotline on 800-422-4453. Other sources of help can be found at Child Helplines International