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George Pell denied public memorial in home Australian state

Cardinal George Pell -- a giant of the Catholic Church who was accused and cleared of sexual abuse in Australia -- has died in Rome aged 81. ©AFP

Sydney (AFP) - An Australian state leader on Thursday emphatically ruled out a taxpayer-funded memorial for Cardinal George Pell, saying it would be "deeply distressing" for sexual abuse survivors. 

Pell, who died in Rome aged 81, was a towering figure in the Catholic Church but deeply divisive at home in Australia, where he had been accused of molesting two teenage choir boys while archbishop of Melbourne. 

Born in Victoria and once celebrated within the state, he was the highest-ranking Catholic to be imprisoned for child sexual abuse, before his convictions were quashed on appeal. 

Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday said Pell's legacy had been permanently tainted. 

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

"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." 

State funerals are reserved for high-profile figures who have made significant contributions to Australian public life.

Pell died of heart complications related to a hip surgery he underwent in a Rome hospital on Tuesday, according to the Vatican's official news website. 

His body will be returned to Australia and buried in the crypt of St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, church officials said. 

In a telegram, Pope Francis paid tribute to Pell's "dedication to the gospel and to the Church", saying he "followed his Lord with determination even in a time of trial". 

Former conservative Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said his friend's name had been tainted by a "monstrous allegation". 

Pell voluntarily returned to Australia in 2016 to face accusations that he molested two 13-year-old choirboys in the 1990s. 

In 2019, he was sentenced to six years in prison and registered as a sex offender. 

He spent 12 months behind bars before the Australian High Court quashed his convictions on appeal -- opening the door for his return to Rome in late 2020. 

Pell was also condemned for his failure to stamp out the broader problem of sexual abuse inside Australia's Catholic Church.

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