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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Lucinda Garbutt-Young

Why Cardinal George Pell's funeral carries sting for Hunter abuse survivors

Geoffrey and Audrey Nash. Picture by Simone De Peak

The family of a boy abused in a Newcastle Catholic school say that Cardinal George Pell's funeral is an injustice to victims.

Cardinal Pell was convicted of molesting two teenagers at St Patrick's Cathedral in 1996 when he was archbishop of Melbourne. In 2020, he was acquitted by the High Court.

Geoffrey Nash, the brother of Andrew Nash who died by suicide at 13 after abuse at a Hunter Marist school, feels that Cardinal Pell should still be held accountable for abuse of "thousands" of boys by other Church staff while he was Australia's most senior Catholic.

"When you're the leader, you take responsibility," Mr Nash said.

Cardinal Pell, the former Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Archbishop of Sydney and later the Vatican's top finance minister, died in January following heart complications.

"A lot of my friends were very upset," Mr Nash said on Cardinal Pell being given the funeral of a "great man".

A requiem mass held at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney on Thursday had thousands of mourners in attendance, after a procession of about 100 people followed Cardinal Pell's body along College Street yesterday.

Mr Nash's mother, Audrey Nash, 96, agreed that Cardinal Pell has received a grand funeral while victims in the Church remain overlooked.

Ms Nash and her family have grieved the life of Andrew since 1974. She no longer attends mass, as she says the Church offered her "nowhere to go" with her sadness. Days like Cardinal Pell's funeral are a reminder of what she's lost.

"I just can't understand any of it," Ms Nash said. "I don't think [Cardinal Pell] deserves [this reception]."

Friends and supporters of Cardinal Pell, like Sydney's Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher, remember a "giant of a man" with a big heart.

During the mass, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the congregation that Cardinal Pell was "made a scapegoat for the Church itself."

"He should never have been charged," Mr Abbott said.

While Ms Nash is "more or less used to it", she and Mr Nash said coverage of Cardinal Pell's funeral is confronting for many who were abused by clergy while he was in power.

"A lot of people are not going to handle [today] well. It's going to be extremely traumatic and it's going to be extremely difficult," Mr Nash said.

But through their hardship, the Nash family have found support in those closest to them. Mr Nash encouraged people who find today hard to do the same.

"You've got to reach out to your friends and your family and to medical professionals," Mr Nash said. "It's very stressful."

Independent bodies like Clergy Abused Network (CAN) offer support to families and survivors in the Hunter. CAN currently has around 150 members. Today, CAN held their monthly meeting with roughly 50 in attendance.

"It was a good outlet for a lot of people who came along. Some of our people have travelled down to Sydney and hung ribbons," CAN Chairperson Bob O'Toole said, speaking of sexual assault survivors who have tied ribbons to St Mary's Cathedral.

Mr O'Toole said that survivors can contact CAN's healing and support coordinator via 0411 108 465.

Help from Lifeline is available on 13 11 14.

To see more stories and read today's paper download the Newcastle Herald news app here.

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