Former prime minister Tony Abbott’s tribute to Australia’s most powerful Catholic, George Pell, has raised eyebrows following the controversial church leader’s death on Wednesday.
Cardinal Pell died at the age of 81 in a Rome hospital after suffering complications from hip replacement surgery.
He returned to the Vatican in September 2020, six months after being acquitted of convictions for child sexual abuse.
Abbott called Cardinal Pell a “great leader” in his statement.
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“As an ecclesiastical and cultural conservative, he attracted praise and blame from all quarters as expected,” Abbott said.
“His imprisonment on charges which the High Court eventually scathingly dismissed was a modern form of crucifixion – reputationally at least a kind of living death.
“His prison diaries should become a classic: an excellent man struggling with a cruel fate and trying to make sense of the injustice of suffering.
“In his way, in dealing with such a monstrous accusation, he seems to me a saint of our time.
“Like all who knew him, I feel a deep sense of loss, but I am sure his reputation will grow and grow and become an inspiration for the ages.”
But a popular Australian news anchor criticized the tribute to Mr. Abbott as unacceptable.
Former Channel 7 news presenter Jacqueline Felgate shared an image of Tony Abbott’s statement in the moments after it was published along with a brutal three-word caption.
“Beyond the pale,” he wrote.
Some of his high-profile supporters agreed.
“This can’t be real,” Neighbours Olympia star Valance replied.
She wasn’t alone. Critics wasted no time in making their feelings known online after news of Pell’s death broke.
“George Pell has died. This will be a very emotional day for many people. Thinking of them” Four corners Journalist Louise Milligan, who has reported extensively on the Catholic leader, tweeted.
“Thinking of the victims and their families who were treated so appallingly by this man and his lieutenants over many decades.” wrote reporter Suzie Smith, who has also reported extensively on Pell.
News.com.au contributor Nina Funnell said her thoughts were also with survivors of abuse at the hands of the church.
“Today I remember all the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse who were harmed by him and all the pedophiles he covered,” he tweeted.
“Today I remember all those victims who are no longer with us. And I stand with all those survivors who are still there.”
Tourism, Sports, Major Events and Creative Industries Minister Steve Dimopoulos said it was a difficult day for a number of reasons.
“Today would be a very difficult day for the Cardinal’s family and loved ones, but also very difficult for survivors and victims of child sexual abuse and their families, and my thoughts are with them,” he said.
Iconic Australian actor Magda Szubanski simply tweeted: “George Pell is dead. If you can’t say anything nice about someone…”
Abbott was not alone among a wave of church leaders and conservatives in mourning Pell’s loss and defending his legacy.
“It is with great sadness that we learn the news that Cardinal George Pell died a few hours ago of heart complications after hip surgery. May eternal light now be his, who believed so firmly in the God of Jesus Christ” , said the Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter A Comensoli.
News Corp’s Andrew Bolt wrote in a column written on Wednesday that Pell was the victim of unfair media criticism and was an “inspirational” man.
“Check out the taunts on Twitter about Pell’s death: ‘rot in hell, half-breed,’ and ‘need to know if George Pell felt any pain before he died like a cockroach,'” he wrote.
“Pell, a Christian, would never have been so ruthless. This is the great moral chasm: Christians vs. barbarians, into which he fell.”
“One of the two ‘victims’ even told her parents that there was no rape, and the Court decided, seven judges to no avail, Pell was innocent.
Pell always suspected that Vatican clerics planted or supported these outlandish accusations to prevent him from investigating them for corruption. One of his enemies is now on trial.
“Yet to this day, thousands of Australians still prefer this lie by Pell the peofile, and the ABC has never apologized for pushing it. Like Nero, they would rather crucify an innocent Christian than listen the truth”.
Mount Isa federal crossbencher Bob Katter described the public’s treatment of Pell as “evil”.
“The persecution and imprisonment of Pell was evil,” he wrote.
“Pell’s hero was Jesus Christ, he died cruelly on a cross. The “ideological humanists” who manifest ambition every day of their lives, Pell’s hero called them “white tombs”.
“A man of great determination to do good, but the cruelty of his last years reminds us that, as Christians, persecution is almost our identifying marker.
“But let us be inspired by this towering figure, who while imprisoned and destroyed, never muttered a bad word against the fascist forces that assailed him.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday ruled out holding a state memorial service for the late cardinal, saying he could think of nothing “more distressing” for the “survivors of the victims”. “I think, more importantly, it’s going to be a very difficult time for the survivors of the victims, to send the message as clearly as possible that we see you, we believe you, we support you,” he said.
Originally published as ‘Beyond the Pale’: Seven anchor Pell’s brutal reaction