Ribbons tied on the fence of St Mary’s Cathedral in support of victims of clergy abuse are being removed ahead of a planned requiem mass in Sydney for Cardinal George Pell.
Coloured ribbons have been placed outside St Mary’s in recent days by campaigners who want to give voice to abuse victims and survivors ahead of Pell’s mass and burial on 2 February.
They have been tied along entire sections of the cathedral’s fence, pictures and video on social media showed.
But the ribbons are being periodically removed. Guardian Australia saw just one when it visited St Mary’s on Wednesday.
The removal prompted critics to say the church’s response was “petty”.
When Jenny arrived at St Mary’s Cathedral on Wednesday morning she spotted a solitary red ribbon. Undeterred, Jenny – who did not want her surname published – set to work tying a string of silver ribbons onto the cathedral’s fence.
“The way the Catholic church has treated these individuals is appalling,” she said.
“It’s not just George Pell. It’s the whole church and the whole industry of the Catholic church. If they believed in God they wouldn’t do and say the things they do. I wish there was a security camera so I could give them the finger.”
Loud Fence, the group which first advocated placing ribbons at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Ballarat, described the removals at St Mary’s as the “same old business” from the church. It said the church was protecting its brand at the expense of abuse victims.
Loud Fence’s founder, Maureen Hatcher – who supports but is not directly involved in the grassroots effort at St Mary’s – said it was devastating for survivors to have ribbons removed. Her group had similar problems in Ballarat.
“We tend to say now that every ribbon has a voice, and I feel that,” she said.
“Once you tie a ribbon to the fence, that’s what it becomes. It becomes a symbol of a survivor or a victim, and it’s their voice, whether they’ve been able to speak out or not, it’s there.
“It’s also the fact that they’re cut down and there’s no acknowledgment at all. It’s not like there’s a plaque on the fence with an apology, there’s no collaboration with survivors. It’s just the same old business that’s rolling out again.”
The ribbon-tying campaign in Sydney was amplified by a series of tweets by Simon Hunt, the satirist sometimes known as Pauline Pantsdown, who encouraged locals to emulate the actions of residents in Ballarat.
“[Pell’s] death has triggered a lot of memories and feelings among people who are survivors of child sexual assault. I’m not a Christian, I’m not personally affected by child sexual assault, aside from relationships with friends and family who have been,” he said.
“It was very much the whitewashing of George Pell that made me go forward and start that campaign – although when I got there there was already a ribbon there.”
Jenny first visited the cathedral on Tuesday afternoon to hang ribbons. She said many displays shown on social media from the morning had been removed by the time she arrived.
“We’ll keep coming back,” she said. “They’ll have the service on the second and I’ll come back then. The way the Catholic church treats these ribbons is really petty. It’s just a simple act. What they’re doing is not acknowledging what the church themselves and George Pell have done.”
The Guardian contacted the archdiocese of Sydney and St Mary’s for comment.
• Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues is available from the following organisations. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 802 9999. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html