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Duncan Murray

Protesters rally outside Cardinal Pell funeral service

There is a heavy police presence at Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral as mourners being arriving for Cardinal George Pell's funeral service.

The former Catholic archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney will be laid to rest after an 11am requiem mass on Thursday, following his death in Rome last month at 81.

NSW Police riot squad units are outside the cathedral to ensure a buffer zone is maintained between mourners and protesters, who are gathering in Hyde Park.

Former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton are expected to be among the mourners, but neither NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet nor Opposition Leader Chris Minns will attend the service for the controversial figure.

Thousands of colourful ribbons attached to the cathedral's gates in memory of those who suffered sexual abuse by clergy were removed overnight.

An 11th hour compromise was reached on Wednesday, allowing a protest organised by LGBTQI group Community Action for Rainbow Rights to proceed.

Protest organisers agreed not to march on College Street directly next to the cathedral, but will be allowed to gather on the other side of the road, within earshot of mourners.

Tensions flared briefly about 9am on Thursday when several mourners tried to remove ribbons tied to a small area of cathedral fence where the Church had allowed them to be tied.

"What was meant to be an act of healing has become an act of destruction," said Loud Fence, a supporter of the ribbon movement.

Theresa Guzzo, who flew from New Zealand to attend the service, told AAP she was against the presence of protesters at the funeral and felt Cardinal Pell had become a "scapegoat" for animosity towards the Church.

"For me it's just inappropriate to do your protesting at the funeral where we're saying goodbye to him, no matter what your belief is," Ms Guzzo said.

She said she initially "strongly" believed allegations of child abuse against Cardinal Pell, but no longer did after he was cleared by the Federal Court and she reviewed the evidence.

Another mourner, who asked not to be named, said she understood the protesters' feelings and called for mutual respect.

"Respect has to go two ways,'' she said.

"If people are grieving then you have to honour the deep anguish and sorrow that people may be experiencing.

"But then there's a different kind of anguish and sorrow potentially on the other side of the road, and so it's a difficult line to walk."

Cardinal Pell's conservative stance on issues including gay marriage and abortion rights had been the subject of criticism, and he faced allegations of covering up child abuse.

He was the Vatican's top finance minister before leaving Rome in 2017 to stand trial in Melbourne on child sexual abuse offences.

Cardinal Pell was convicted the following year 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 quashed by the High Court.

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