Friends and Family Pay Their Respects to Cardinal Pell
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals, described Cardinal George Pell as ‘a man of God and a man of the Church’ in his homily at a packed Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.
VATICAN CITY — Hundreds of mourners from across the world, including a large number of cardinals and archbishops, family members, many friends and a few foes, paid their respects to Cardinal George Pell at his funeral Mass on Saturday.
The requiem Mass for the Australian cardinal, who unexpectedly died after suffering a cardiac arrest in a Rome hospital on Jan. 10 at the age of 81, took place at a packed Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.
In his homily, the main celebrant, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals, described George Pell as “a man of God and a man of the Church.”
Noting that the cardinal appeared healthy when he was admitted to the hospital for routine hip surgery and only a few days earlier had attended Benedict XVI’s funeral, Cardinal Re said his sudden death “took us all by surprise.”
“Enlightened and comforted by faith in the Risen Christ, we are gathered around this altar and the body of Cardinal Pell to entrust his soul to God, that he may be received into the immensity of his love in life without end,” Cardinal Re said.
To the amusement of some in attendance who knew well and admired the late cardinal’s straightforward nature, he described Cardinal Pell as a “strong-willed and decisive protagonist, characterized by the temperament of a strong character, which at times could appear harsh.”
Cardinal Re then recalled the cardinal’s trial and subsequent imprisonment for sexual abuse in 2019 to 2020, before the verdict was overturned as unfounded by Australia’s highest court, as an “unjust and painful condemnation” and an “experience of great suffering,” which the cardinal “endured with confidence in God’s judgment, setting an example of how to accept even unjust punishments with dignity and inner peace.”
“Faith and prayer were of great comfort and support to him in this sad affair,” Cardinal Re continued, adding that the cardinal published his diaries of his imprisonment to show how “faith and prayer help in the difficult times of life” and to “support those who must unjustly suffer.”
Cardinal Re briefly recounted George Pell’s life of high achievement, which included a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University, his appointments as auxiliary bishop of Melbourne in 1987, and as archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and of Sydney in 2001, concluding with Pope Francis naming him both to his “council of cardinals” to help him reform Church governance and as the first prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. The dicastery was established as part of a wider reform to make Vatican finances cleaner and more transparent.
“He successively guided the two archdioceses with strong and clear leadership, as well as tirelessly engaged in pastoral activities, manifesting greatness of intellect and heart,” the dean of the College of Cardinals said, noting that the motto he chose at his episcopal consecration was “Be Not Afraid.” He also remembered the Australian cardinal’s “extraordinary zeal” and his ability to speak to young people.
The Pope’s Final Commendation
Pope Francis arrived in a wheelchair at the end of the Mass to perform the Rite of Final Commendation and Valediction, as is his custom for the funeral of a cardinal.
“May God unite his soul with those of all the saints and faithful departed,” the Pope prayed.
“May he be given a merciful judgment so that, redeemed from death, freed from punishment, reconciled to the Father, carried in the arms of the Good Shepherd, he may deserve to enter fully into everlasting happiness in the company of the eternal King together with all the saints.”
The Pope then sprinkled holy water, after which a priest incensed the coffin as the choir and congregation sang the Marian antiphon Sub Tuum Praesidium. Pallbearers carried Cardinal Pell’s coffin through the basilica, and applause spontaneously broke out.
The cardinal will be buried in his former cathedral, St. Mary’s, in Sydney, on Feb. 2.
Relatives of Cardinal Pell, including his brother, David, and his cousin Chris Meney, as well as priests and religious, traveled from Australia for the funeral.
Friends included American Cardinals Raymond Burke, patron of the Order of Malta, Edwin O’Brien, grand master emeritus of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, and James Harvey, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, as well as German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect emeritus of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.
But in a testimony to the respect he had among other cardinals with whom Cardinal Pell did not always see eye to eye in terms of ecclesial vision or administration, also attending were Cardinals Arthur Roche, prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship, Walter Kasper, prefect emeritus of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, and, most notably, Angelo Becciù, the Vatican’s former deputy secretary of state.
The Italian cardinal had opposed Cardinal Pell’s attempts to clean up Vatican finances, and the two had often publicly sparred, but in recent months, Cardinal Pell had defended Cardinal Becciù’s right to due process as he faced prosecution over a highly publicized London property scandal.
Among his lay friends were longtime friend and Pope St. John Paul II’s biographer George Weigel, Michael Casey, Cardinal Pell’s former secretary who now works at the Australian Catholic University, and Danny Casey, who worked with Cardinal Pell at the Secretariat for the Economy from 2014 to 2017.
Libero Milone, the Vatican’s former auditor general who had also worked closely with the cardinal on financial reform, was also present.
“He was a great man and a great friend,” Milone said, visibly moved.
Danny Casey told the Register the cardinal was a “dear friend and very inspirational leader.”
“One of the things that really struck me early on, and later on, was his humility and his concern for the person — he was really concerned about the individual,” Casey said. “For instance, when he was imprisoned, within 24 hours, I received a call from him, as he was concerned about how I was and how my wife was.”
“Of all the things you’d think he was worried about, he was concerned about his friends and how they’d taken the situation, and he assured us he was praying hard,” Casey added. “In fact, he assured us, ‘I need to do a long retreat; and, obviously, this is one I’ll need to do.’”
Remembering his work in Vatican finances, Casey said the cardinal had “terrific vision, great courage and the capacity to do it.” On multiple occasions, he said, the cardinal stressed the importance of serving the mission and underscoring that although the Church is not a business, “we have to be business-like in the way we run our affairs, because then we’re using the money more wisely and prudently and can use it to help the poor and the vulnerable and do more mission work.”
Citing the old aphorism “No good work goes unpunished,” Casey said Cardinal Pell “faced so much resistance because he did so much good.”
Cardinal Pell’s cousin, Chris Meney, who picked him up from prison when he was released in April 2020, told the Register, “It is almost surreal now that he has passed and to read the commentary by those who either did not know him and were unaware of what he has done for many in various ways, or just chose to attack the man because of what he stood for.”
“I feel a bit like we are about to bury a great Roman general who knew what really mattered and was prepared to go into battle for those things even when he was aware the numbers were sometimes greatly against him,” said Meney, who serves as chancellor of the Sydney Archdiocese and director of the Life, Marriage and Family Centre. “He once said to me that ‘Sometimes you have to be prepared to stand alone.’ … I have never forgotten it.”
Father Anthony Sherbrooke of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Soho, London, recalled the “spiritual fatherhood” he had received from the cardinal during a 25-year friendship.
“Today’s funeral brought together family, friends, religious and clergy of all ages, but mainly young,” he told the Register. “We had last spoken on Monday about leaving the clinic after his new hip, which he received the next day, skipping down the street.”
“Now, he is skipping in the eternal banquet as a white martyr and smiling on his many, many distraught friends,” said the English priest, who noted how many had asked at a reception after the funeral, “How can he have left us?”
“Such are the mysterious purposes of God,” he said. “Eternal rest, grant unto him …”
Cardinal Pell’s personal secretary, Father Joseph Hamilton, said, “My cardinal was baptized as a friend of Jesus, lived as a friend of Jesus, suffered as a friend of Jesus, and died as a friend of Jesus."
Father Hamilton revealed that the cardinal had told the anesthetist on Tuesday: “I know I am a high-risk patient, but I place myself in the hands of God and trust in his will.”
‘We Entrust This Brother of Ours’
Concluding his homily, Cardinal Re said Cardinal Pell “was characterized by a deep faith and great steadfastness of doctrine, which he always defended without hesitation and with courage, concerned only with being faithful to Christ.
“As he noted many times, the weakening of faith in the Western world and the moral crisis of the family grieved him,” Cardinal Re added. “To God, who is good and rich in mercy, we entrust this brother of ours, praying that God will welcome him into the peace and intimacy of his love.”