‘A man of the Church,’ Cardinal George Pell’s funeral held at Vatican

Pope Francis presides over the Final Commendation and Farewell at the end of Cardinal George Pell’s funeral Mass on January 14, 2023.

VATICAN—Catholics traveled from near and far to attend the funeral Mass of Cardinal George Pell in St. Peter’s Basilica on January 14.

The Australian cardinal died in Rome on January 10 from a cardiac arrest following a hip surgery. He was 81.

His January 14 funeral, held at the Altar of the Chair, was filled to capacity, with extra chairs added at the last minute to accommodate people standing as far back as the Vatican basilica’s main altar.

“A man of God and a man of the Church, he 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,” Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re said about Pell in his homily for the funeral.

“As he noted many times, the weakening of faith in the Western world and the moral crisis of the family grieved him,” Re said. “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.”

Pell’s brother, David Pell, and cousin Chris Meney, together with other family members, priests and religious, traveled from Australia to be at the funeral.

Michael Casey, Pell’s former secretary who now works at the Australian Catholic University, also attended.

From Rome, Holy See diplomats, students and priests also came to pray for Pell’s repose. Seminarians of the Pontifical North American College attended the funeral Mass immediately following their audience with Pope Francis the same morning.

American author George Weigel, a longtime friend of Pell, traveled from the United States for the funeral.

The Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Re, the deacon of the College of Cardinals, and concelebrated by cardinals and bishops.

Pell’s private secretary during his years in Rome, Father Joseph Hamilton, and archbishop Georg Gänswein, the longtime secretary of Pope Benedict XVI, also concelebrated.

Pope Francis arrived at the end of the Mass to perform the rite of final commendation and farewell, 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 judgement 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,” he added.

Francis sprinkled holy water. A priest incensed the coffin as the choir and congregation sang the Marian antiphon “Sub Tuum Praesidium.”

Applause broke out as Pell’s coffin was carried from St. Peter’s Basilica.

The cardinal will be buried in his former cathedral, St. Mary’s, in Sydney, Australia.

The day before his funeral, a visitation was held for Pell in the Church of Santo Stefano degli Abissini inside the Vatican.

The Gospel for Cardinal Pell’s funeral Mass was from Luke 12, about the vigilant and faithful servants: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival,” Luke 12:37 says.

The Responsorial Psalm was from Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

In his homily, Re remarked on Pell’s unexpected death, and on his recent attendance at the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI.

“Despite his 81 years, he seemed to be in good health,” he said. “Hospitalized for hip surgery, heart complications ensued, causing his death.”

“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,” Re said.

Re described Pell as a “strong-willed and decisive protagonist, characterized by the temper of a strong character, which at times could appear harsh.”

The cardinal’s premature death, Re said, has left us dismayed, but “there is only room in our hearts for hope.”

As the Vatican’s finance minister for three years, Pell had been a key player in the early years of Francis’s papacy, whose goals included reforming the Holy See’s finances, which had a long history of scandals and poor management.

Pell later returned to his native Australia to be tried on child sex abuse charges over allegations that he molested two choirboys while he was archbishop of Melbourne.

He served more than a year in solitary confinement in prison before an earlier court conviction was overturned in 2020.

Pell had steadfastly proclaimed his innocence.

Right after his death, it was revealed that the Australian churchman had authored the memo that had been circulating for many months in church circles, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

In the memo, Pell had lamented that the current papacy as a “disaster” and a “catastrophe.”

Separately, the day after Pell died, a conservative magazine published what it said was an article by the cardinal decrying as a “toxic nightmare” Francis’s determination to sound out Catholic laity on such issues as church teaching on sexuality and the role of women. Those issues will likely spark sharp debate later this year in a meeting of bishops from around the world summoned by Francis to the Vatican, AP said.

The day after Pell died, Francis in a condolence telegram paid tribute to the cardinal, saying that while the prelate led the economy office, “he laid the bases with determination and wisdom” for reforms of the Holy See’s finance system, which had been taken to task for years by international financial watchdog bodies.

In the homily, Cardinal Re lamented that Pell’s final years had been “marked by an unjust and painful conviction.”

“It was an experience of great suffering sustained with faith in the judgment of God,” Re said.

Image credits: Vatican Media


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