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Funeral for Cardinal George Pell held at the Vatican with Pope Francis giving final blessing

Pope Francis has delivered a final blessing at the funeral of Cardinal George Pell in St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.

Cardinal Pell, 81, who spent more than a year in jail before being acquitted of sexual abuse allegations in Australia, died on Tuesday night in a Rome hospital of heart failure.

As the Vatican's finance minister for three years, Cardinal Pell had been a key player in the early years of Francis's papacy, whose goals included reforming the Holy See's finances, which had a long history of scandals and poor management.

As is customary for funerals of cardinals, a final blessing, delivered in Latin — in the form of a prayer for mercy and eternal rest — was recited by Francis, who, in a wheelchair, passed by Cardinal Pell's closed dark wooden coffin.

The funeral mass itself was celebrated by an Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re in his role as Dean of the College of Cardinals.

He praised Cardinal Pell as a "man of God and man of the Church,'' who was distinguished for "a deep faith and great solidity of doctrine, which he always defended without wavering and with courage".

"As he noted many times, he was pained by the weakening of faith in the Western world and the moral crisis of the family,'' Cardinal Re said in his homily.

Cardinal Re made reference to Cardinal Pell's "perseverance" during his "hour of trial" — thought to be a reference to the 13 months he spent in an Australian prison on historical child sexual abuse charges, before the conviction was overturned by the High Court.

Earlier on Saturday, Cardinal Pell's body had been lying in state at the church of St Stephen of the Abyssinians, which is normally used for baptisms and weddings, and is one of the oldest in the Vatican.

Parts of it date back to the fifth century and it is one of the few structures not demolished to make way for the building of the current St Peter's Basilica, which began in the early 16th century.

Cardinal Pell will be buried in the crypt at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, where he served as archbishop, the Australian Church has announced.

Pell's death prompts reflection

The Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe was among the Australians who attended the Vatican service. 

"This is the mass for Cardinal Pell in terms of his role in the universal church - for the cardinals the mass today was for one of theirs, one of their brothers," he said.  

Archbishop Costelloe told reporters outside St Peter's Basilica that Pell's death had prompted many to reflect.

"The whole sexual abuse issue we have had to face in the church sadly will have come up again for many people," he said. 

"We are conscious of that, and whatever we say and whatever we do as we reflect on Cardinal Pell's legacy, we are sensitive to people who are struggling with, due to the sexual abuse crisis."

Archbishop Costelloe said there would be another ceremony in Sydney when Cardinal Pell's body will be lowered into the crypt of St Mary's Cathedral.

"In Sydney [the service] will be for one of ours, I suspect it will have a similar dignity [to the Vatican service]," he said. 

He said he hoped the event would not attract protesters and people would respect the importance of a funeral to practising Catholics.

Father Joseph Murphy, from the Archdiocese of Sydney remembered Cardinal Pell as someone who was matter-of-fact in his personality and "could be very blunt".

"He reminded me a lot of my grandfather, someone who grew up in post-war Australia," he said.

'Catastrophe' memo causes friction

Pell's funeral preparations were overshadowed by revelations the cardinal was the author of an anonymous memo that branded Pope Francis' pontificate a catastrophe.

Last year, respected Italian journalist Sandro Magister — who has a long track record of receiving leaked Vatican documents — published an anonymous memo circulating in the Vatican condemning Pope Francis's papacy as a "catastrophe".

Magister disclosed on his widely read blog Settimo Cielo (Seventh Heaven) that it was Cardinal Pell who wrote the memo and gave him permission to publish it under the pseudonym of "Demos" — Greek for populace.

It included what the author said should be the qualities of the next pope.

"Everyone here is talking about it," one Vatican, official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

The official said he did not doubt that Cardinal Pell was the author but said the revelation should have been held back until after his funeral "out of respect for the dead".

Father Joseph Hamilton, Cardinal Pell's personal secretary, declined to comment on Magister's report and Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said he also had no comment.

Separately, the day after Cardinal Pell died, a conservative magazine published what it said was an article by the cardinal, decrying as a "toxic nightmare" Francis's determination to sound out Catholic laity on such issues as church teaching on sexuality and the role of women.

Those issues are expected to be hotly debated later this year in a meeting of bishops from around the world, summoned by Francis to the Vatican.

The day after Cardinal Pell died, Pope Francis paid tribute to the cardinal in a condolence telegram.

It said that while the prelate led the economy office, "he laid the bases with determination and wisdom" for reforms of the Holy See's finance system, which had been taken to task for years by international financial watchdog bodies.

Among the concelebrants at the altar on Saturday was another high-profile Vatican prelate who in recent days had blasted Francis's leadership of the Roman Catholic church.

German Archbishop Georg Gaenswein — like Cardinal Pell a staunch advocate of the church hierarchy's more conservative faction and a longtime aide of Pope Benedict XVI — bitterly complained about how he was treated by Francis after Benedict retired in 2013 and Francis was elected as pontiff.

Gaenswein unleashed a torrent of criticism of Francis in interviews hours after Benedict died in retirement at the Vatican on December 31 and in a book published days later.


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