George Pell funeral: removing abuse victims’ ribbons is wrong, former church official says

Advocates furious the church keeps removing ribbons intended to give voice to survivors of clergy abuse

Francis Sullivan, the former head of the Catholic church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council, says the removal of ribbons commemorating abuse survivors from St Mary’s Cathedral appears designed to prevent the scandal from being “associated with Cardinal [George] Pell” in the days leading up to his funeral.

Survivors and their supporters are furious that the church is continually removing ribbons they have tied to the fence surrounding Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral before the requiem mass planned for Pell on Thursday.

The ribbons are intended to give voice to clergy abuse survivors who were often rendered voiceless for decades.

Sullivan, who led the church’s response to the child abuse royal commission, said the ribbons’ removal appeared to be designed to disassociate Pell from the clergy abuse scandal ahead of Thursday’s funeral.

“It does come down to the administrators of [each building] so, by the sounds of things, they’re taking a view that they’re not going to permit ribbons on the fences,” he told Guardian Australia. “You can only assume that it’s because they don’t want the scandal associated with Cardinal Pell. That’s the only way you can read it, in my mind.”

He said the church should be encouraging the survivor community to remember the crisis.

“I think, given the history of the atrocious way in which the Catholic church has handled the reality of child sexual abuse, that occasions when the broader survivor community wants that reality to be remembered, should be encouraged,” he said.

Paul Auchettl, an abuse survivor from Ballarat, flew to Sydney on the weekend to tie ribbons at St Mary’s. Church staff have repeatedly removed them, he says.

“We are now back at the cathedral and the ribbons have been taken down a third time,” Auchettl said on Monday. “We keep putting them back.”

The Guardian has repeatedly approached the Sydney archdiocese, asking why the ribbons are being removed. No response has been received.

Sullivan said the silence was typical of the church’s response when faced with questions about the abuse scandal.

“Here we go again,” he said. “When it comes to child sexual abuse, the Catholic church has demonstrated propensity to either go silent or give limited information or to try minimise the impact.”

Meanwhile, also on Thursday, the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform will hold a gathering in support of Pope Francis’s commitment to a more inclusive church and less autocratic and patriarchal leadership.

Kevin Triston, an ACCCR project officer, said on Monday that the timing of the event, on the same day as Pell’s funeral, was coincidental, but that it set up an “interesting contrast between celebrating the life of a man who was very determined to take the church back to where it was 100 years ago, [and] a gathering of people who want to see the church moving in a way that’s proving productive for its members”. .

LGBTQ+ protesters are also planning a protest outside St Mary’s on Thursday to denounce Pell’s strident long-held opposition to same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights.

  • In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. Other international suicide helplines can be found at


Christopher Knaus

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘Petty’: ribbons for abuse victims removed from Sydney church hosting Pell funeral
Campaigners have been tying coloured ribbons to fence of St Mary’s Cathedral ahead of Cardinal George Pell’s mass on Thursday 2 February

Christopher Knaus and Caitlin Cassidy

18, Jan, 2023 @6:22 AM

Article image
George Pell funeral: Tony Abbott praises cardinal as a ‘saint for our times’ and rails against child abuse charges
Former PM says the cardinal was ‘the greatest man I’ve ever known’, likening his treatment to a ‘modern-day crucifixion’

Christopher Knaus

02, Feb, 2023 @5:46 AM

Article image
George Pell: Ballarat mass urges support for abuse victims – and forgiveness for the church
Of the small number gathered at St Patrick’s Cathedral some did not want to forgive while others remembered cardinal’s ‘legacy’

Henry Belot

12, Jan, 2023 @3:55 AM

Article image
‘Unfinished business’: Ballarat abuse survivor to tie a ribbon at St Mary’s before George Pell funeral
Paul Auchettl says the cathedral should not cut ribbons down as they are a powerful voice for people who were silenced

Christopher Knaus

25, Jan, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Police send sexual abuse brief about George Pell to prosecutors
Australia’s most senior Catholic denies all allegations of abuse, which will be reviewed by Department of Public Prosecutions

Melissa Davey

07, Feb, 2017 @12:16 AM

Article image
Police investigating George Pell over fresh child sexual abuse allegation – report
News Corp says acquitted cardinal faces new claims over alleged incident in the 1970s when he was a priest in Ballarat

Melissa Davey

14, Apr, 2020 @3:05 AM

Article image
George Pell funeral: hundreds protest outside St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney
LGBTQ+ protesters condemn cardinal’s record on same-sex marriage, women’s rights and protecting children from clergy abuse

Rafqa Touma

02, Feb, 2023 @6:53 AM

Article image
Pell seeks legal advice after Vatican official slams 'mockery' of abuse victims
Member of Vatican commission for the protection of children said Cardinal George Pell had an ‘almost sociopathic’ disregard for sexual abuse victims

Melissa Davey

31, May, 2015 @11:38 PM

Article image
George Pell takes leave from Vatican to fight sexual abuse charges in Australia
The cardinal, the third highest-ranking figure in the Vatican, said he was the victim of ‘relentless character assassination’

Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome and Melissa Davey in Melbourne

29, Jun, 2017 @6:45 AM

Article image
George Pell lying in state in Vatican’s St Stephen of the Abyssinians church
Around 20 people were seen kneeling in prayer in the church – typically used for baptisms and weddings – prior to funeral for Australia’s most senior Catholic

Christopher Knaus

14, Jan, 2023 @1:39 AM