Police launch court bid to keep protestors away from Pell memorial service

New South Wales police are seeking a court order to stop LGBTIQA+ protestors from marching on the street outside the memorial service of Catholic Cardinal George Pell.

Sydney group Community Action for Rainbow Rights had been planning a protest through Sydney that would have coincided with the Requiem Mass being held in St Mary’s Cathedral. The group are highlighting the church leader’s long opposition to LGBTIQA+ rights and same-sex marriage.

The NSW Police have applied to the NSW supreme court to stop the protest from occurring.

The community group had formally applied to hold the march which they say will involve around 300 people and including a march that will start in Hyde Park, pass by the cathedral and end at Taylor Square on Oxford Street. Organiser April Holcombe told The Guardian that it would be a peaceful event and the police response was “baffling”.

The event is promoted on the group’s Facebook page as the ‘Pell go to Hell! LGBTI protest at George Pell’s funeral’.

Police say they have safety concerns about the proposed march and will ask the court to prohibit it from taking place.

Cardinal Pell died in early January, he was previously the Archbishop of Sydney, and before that the Archbishop of Melbourne. As a cardinal he served as the Vatican’s top finance minister before he left his position in 2017 to stand trial in Australia for child abuse offences.

In 2018 Cardinal Pell was convicted of molesting two teenage choirboys in St Patrick’s Cathedral while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996. The cardinal always maintained he was innocent of the charges, and his convictions were quashed in a unanimous decision by the High Court in 2020.

Pell often spoke out against homosexuality. In 1990 he said homosexuality was wrong and “for the good of society it should not be encouraged”. He later suggested the best way to tackle high rates of suicide among young LGBT people would be to encourage them not to be gay, labeling homosexuality a “greater health hazard than smoking”.

During his time as Archbishop of Melbourne he also argued that abstinence and monogamy within marriage were the best way to tackle the spread of HIV in Africa, suggesting than this was a preferable approach to distributing condoms and encouraging safe sex practices.

“Condoms are encouraging promiscuity. They are encouraging irresponsibility.” Pell is recorded as saying. Health experts condemned his comments highlighting that there was overwhelming research showing that a safe-sex approach was far more effective in combating the spread of the virus.

In 2006 Pell voiced his opposition to legislation that would allow LGBT couples to adopt children.  

During his time as Archbishop of Melbourne the church was forced to respond to the growing number of cases where clergy had been accused of sexual abuse offences. Under his watch the church launched the Melbourne Response, a protocol for dealing with cases of sexual abuse within the church. He later oversaw a similar process in the Diocese of Sydney.

Pell later faced allegations that earlier in his career he had failed to take action against priests who were accused of sexual abuse. In 2020 the Royal Commission into sexual abuse found that Pell knew about child sexual abuse occurring in the church in the 1970s but failed to take adequate actions to address it. He rejected the finding, saying it was not supported by the evidence.

OIP Staff 31-01-23 18:15 This report was updated to clarify the event in a memorial service, not the Cardinal’s funeral. 

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