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Rio Davis and staff

George Pell's supporters and detractors attend memorial service for the Cardinal in his home town of Ballarat

The regular Thursday mass at St Patrick's Cathedral in Ballarat took on a more sombre tone as supporters and detractors of George Pell gathered for a service a day after the Cardinal's death in Rome.

Cardinal Pell was born and bred in Ballarat and climbed the church ladder in the Ballarat Diocese, serving as parish priest in Ballarat East from 1973 to 1983.

Even though he was acquitted of sexually abusing choir boys, to many people in Ballarat Pell has come to represent the church's inaction on abuse by clergy.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse found Pell knew, or ought to have known, about the child sex abuse rife in the diocese during his time as parish priest, but failed to stop it.

Cardinal Pell's supporters argue he was a man who was unfairly treated in the courts of law and public opinion.

Delivering his homily inside the cathedral, assistant priest Jim McKay compared the "persecution" of Cardinal Pell to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," he said.

Father McKay highlighted Cardinal Pell's Melbourne Response to child sex abuse, which offered payments of $50,000 for victims when it was introduced in 1996.

Legal barriers to suing the church have since been removed, allowing victims to seek more compensation.

The congregation prayed for Cardinal Pell and for the victims of "child molestation", many of whom died by suicide in the decades after they suffered abuse at the hands of clergy.

"We cannot change what has happened in the past. We can change what happens in the future," Father McKay said.

Organ player Judy Houston says most of the parish were "just very sad" about the abuse that happened.

"We can only hope it will never happen again."

Mournful organ music filled the air as worshippers left the building, telling journalists to "have some respect".

However, the day before, hours after the news broke, someone drove around the church block blaring La Cucaracha on their vehicle's horn.

Outside the service, some people tied new ribbons to the cathedral's fence in memory of victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy.

One woman, who was born and raised in the Ballarat area and did not attend the service, said she was not there to mourn George Pell.

"My thoughts are more with people who suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church. I would rather remember them than remember anybody else," she said.

"I'm not interested in George Pell. I'm interested in helping people [who] suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church and people who weren't protected and should have been."

Another local man, Matt, said he sat in on the service because he wanted to show support for victims of abuse.

"People saying how great he was, I just really struggle with that," he said.

"Forgiveness? Yeah, I get that, but not when someone is refusing to apologise or to show any reason for them to be forgiven." 

Victoria's Premier Daniel Andrews has ruled out a state funeral for George Pell, saying no such request has been put forward.

"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."

Survivors of abuse by Gerald Ridsdale say 'justice hasn't been served'

For survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, Cardinal Pell's death has triggered painful memories.

The cardinal always insisted a royal commission's finding that he knew about Ridsdale's offending by 1982 was "not supported by evidence".

But the commission found it was "not tenable" to believe then-bishop Ronald Mulkearns lied to Cardinal Pell — who was his adviser — about the reasons for moving Ridsdale from the parish at Mortlake in Victoria's south-west.

Brian Kenneally, who was abused by Ridsdale, said Cardinal Pell's death was the "end of an era".

"Unfortunately we never ever got an admittance from George Pell that he had in fact covered up so many offences, despite even the royal commission ruling that they had," he said.

"Till the day he died, the church here in Victoria continually, strenuously fought every single case through the courts."

Mr Kenneally said many survivors of sexual abuse were deeply affected by Cardinal Pell's death.

"They feel that justice hasn't been served with George Pell, and it will never be served now. And that's quite distressing to a number of victims," he said.

Ann Ryan was a Catholic schoolteacher at St Colman's School in Mortlake, where Ridsdale was a parish priest.

She sounded the alarm on his offending in 1989, writing to then-bishop Mulkearns — unaware the bishop had been covering up Ridsdale's offending for years.

Ms Ryan said Pell's death had brought an "amazing feeling of lightness, and freedom, and a sense of peacefulness".

"Maybe it is just going to free a lot more people up to speak more openly, without fear of retaliation," she said.

Paul Levey, who was abused by Ridsdale, said he felt Cardinal Pell should have been charged with covering up sex crimes.

"He got away with a lot of things, he'll go to the grave with a lot of things," he said.

"To me, he's not a good person. To a lot of people, he's not a good person," he said.

Mr Levey started a petition several years ago calling for Cardinal George Pell to be defrocked, which received more than 30,000 signatures.

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