Introduction to Solemn Pontifical Funeral Mass of George Cardinal Pell AC
St Mary’s Basilica, Sydney, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, 2 February 2023
Welcome to St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney for the Solemn Pontifical Funeral Mass for George Cardinal Pell, Companion of the Order of Australia, Prefect Emeritus of the Secretariat of the Economy, and our beloved former Archbishop.
George was born in Ballarat, Victoria, in 1941 to Margaret and George (Senior), with a much-loved sister Margaret (now deceased) and brother David. I welcome David today with wife Judith, and their children Sarah, Nicholas with wife Julie, Rebecca with baby Billie, and Georgina with the Cardinal’s special mate, six-year-old Sonny; and other relatives and friends.
From school George entered Corpus Christi Seminary in Werribee, and went on to Propaganda Fide in Rome, before being ordained a priest for the Diocese of Ballarat in St Peter’s Basilica in 1966. After serving for some years in Ballarat parishes, he was appointed Rector of Corpus Christi Seminary in Melbourne. In due course as Rector and then as Archbishop he would reform the existing seminaries in Melbourne and Sydney and establish a Redemptoris Mater seminary in Sydney. He was also the Pope’s inspector of seminaries in the Pacific. Given his many contributions to promoting vocations and seminaries, and as a father to priests, I am pleased to salute the many clergy and seminarians present today from Sydney, Australia and beyond.
In 1987 Fr Pell was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, choosing “Be not afraid” as his motto; in 1996, he was made Archbishop of that see; and in 2001, Archbishop of Sydney. For more than 25 years he was a member of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and its various bodies. In view of that service and our fraternity, I salute concelebrating with me ACBC President Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, along with many of the Catholic bishops of Australia. We are also honoured by the presence of leaders or representatives of other Christian churches and other faiths.
In 2003 Archbishop Pell was created Cardinal, serving under three popes and at two conclaves. At one time or another he had a role in the Vatican dicasteries for Bishops, Divine Worship, Doctrine of the Faith, Evangelisation of Peoples, the Family, Healthcare, Justice and Peace, Migrants, the New Evangelisation, Pontifical Mission Societies, and Vox Clara. In 2013 Pope Francis appointed him inaugural Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, a position many rank third highest in the Church, and charged him with cleaning up mismanagement and corruption in Vatican finances; he was also a Member of the Pope’s inner Council of Cardinal Advisers until 2018. His Requiem Mass in St Peter’s Basilica drew the biggest crowd for a retired cardinal in living memory. In view of his Vatican service and our worldwide communion, I am pleased to welcome the Holy Father’s representative in Australia, His Excellency Archbishop Charles Balvo.
In 2005 Cardinal Pell was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for service to the Church in Australia and internationally, for his contribution to ethical and spiritual debates, and for his services to education and social justice, for example to Aboriginal Catholic Ministry and as chair of Caritas. So I am pleased to acknowledge representatives of many Church agencies, ecclesial movements and lay associations, chivalrous and service orders present today, as well as a good number of the Cardinal’s friends from David’s Place for homeless and marginalised people.
Cardinal Pell was an erudite man, with a Licentiate, a Master’s and an Oxford Doctorate, and a lifetime of broad reading. He was a champion of sound teaching and fair funding for Catholic schools. He was Director of Aquinas College Ballarat, and a member of state and national Catholic education commissions. He helped establish and grow four tertiary institutions: Australian Catholic University, the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, the University of Notre Dame Australia in Sydney and Campion College. He radically increased the resourcing for university chaplaincy and youth ministry. The apogee of his contributions to the intellectual and spiritual life of young people was World Youth Day in 2008, when he hosted Pope Benedict and the youth of the world for the biggest gathering in the history of Oceania. I welcome present here today leaders and fruits of the Catholic tertiary institutions, schools, university and youth apostolates that he so loved.
The Cardinal was a high-profile advocate of Christian positions on many issues through his newspaper columns and public speaking. He authored a dozen books, including his three-volume Prison Journal. That was one happy fruit from 404 days spent imprisoned for crimes he did not commit, following a media, police and political campaign to punish him whether guilty or not. Even after he was unanimously exonerated by the High Court of Australia, some continued to demonise him. But many appreciate the legacy of the most influential churchman in our nation’s history. I am therefore pleased to salute Colonel Michael Miller, Official Secretary to the Governor of New South Wales representing Her Excellency. From the Commonwealth I acknowledge: Senator Hon. Don Farrell, Special Minister of State and Minister for Trade and Tourism, representing the Prime Minister; Hon. Peter Dutton MP, Leader of the Opposition and of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party; and former Prime Ministers Hon. John Howard OM AC SSI and Hon. Tony Abbott AC. From the State of New South Wales: Hon. Damien Tudehope MLC, Minister for Finance, representing the Premier; Hon. Greg Donnelly MLC, representing the Leader of the Opposition; and other present or former ministers or MPs of the Commonwealth or State parliaments. Also present are members of the judiciary, members of the diplomatic and consular corps, leaders of industry, the professions and the services, indigenous and other community leaders.
The Cardinal surrounded himself with loyal, able and hardworking people and on his behalf I want today to pay tribute to his many co-workers over many years. Thanks especially to his private secretaries Dr Michael Casey, Frs Mark Whitoos, Anthony Robbie and Joseph Hamilton, his vicars general including Monsignor John Usher, his business manager Danny Casey, and many priests, religious and lay friends. I also thank those who were particularly supportive during his trial and imprisonment, including Michael and Ruth Casey, Tim and Anne MacFarlane, Tim and Catrina O’Leary, Paul and Joseph Santamaria, Bernadette and Terry Tobin, Katrina Lee, Chris Meney, Tess Livingstone, Fr Frank Brennan SJ, Prof. Greg Craven and so many others. Some of us were blessed to call him our friend; all of us, our father in faith; and so we mourn his passing. But he was confident, as we should be, that by God’s grace we will all meet merrily in heaven.
Messages of condolence have been received from bishops’ conferences of various nations and other quarters. Thousands of people have come from around the world, this country and this city to pay their respects and take part in the rites yesterday and today; some are outside in the cathedral square and many more are joining us by live-streaming: you are all very welcome.
On this Feast of the Presentation, we pray for this giant of the Catholic Church in Australia that the angels receive his soul and present him to God the Most High. I now invite His Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio to read the Pope’s message.
Word of Thanks after Holy Communion at the Funeral of George Cardinal Pell AC – St Mary’s Basilica, Sydney, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, 2 February 2023
My thanks to our eulogists, the choir, ministers and all who assisted at this Mass; to Sir James MacMillan for his excellent motet based on the Cardinal’s motto; and to the distinguished guests, lay faithful, clergy and bishops who have contributed to today’s heartfelt act of worship and entrustment. We are also grateful to George’s family for sharing him with us so generously for more than 60 years and we promise we will keep praying for the Cardinal’s eternal reward.
In view of the slide in the culture, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago famously predicted that he would die in his bed, his successor die in prison, and his successor die a martyr in the public square. Since Cardinal Clancy died in bed, and Cardinal Pell suffered in prison, I can only presume a grizzly end is in store for me before I join them! But often missed is the fourth part of that prophecy: that those who followed after would pick up the shards of our civilisation and help rebuild it, as the Church has done so often before. I am confident that we will all embrace that responsibility to rebuild and renew. Be not afraid, says Christ the Lord! Be not afraid, Cardinal Pell resounds today!