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Cardinal George Pell protest to take place at same time as Sydney funeral after compromise

ABC News (Sydney) logo ABC News (Sydney) 1/02/2023
Cardinal George Pell's coffin arrives at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney. (ABC News: Harriet Tatham) © Provided by ABC News (Sydney) Cardinal George Pell's coffin arrives at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney. (ABC News: Harriet Tatham)

A dispute between NSW Police and LGBT activists over a rally coinciding with Cardinal George Pell's Sydney funeral has been resolved after the route of a peaceful march was altered.

The group, Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR), planned to hold a march from Hyde Park alongside St Mary's Cathedral on Thursday morning.

A representative gave NSW Police notice that about 300 people were expected to take part, proceeding down College Street next to the cathedral before moving up Oxford Street.

NSW Police said they held concerns for public safety and applied to the state's Supreme Court for an order prohibiting the event.

Barrister Sebastian De Brennan, representing NSW Police, this morning told the court the commissioner did not "in any way" wish to prevent the public assembly from taking place, but the route "causes problems in terms of public safety".

Justice Robert Beech-Jones gave the parties extra time to discuss an alternative, saying that on his reading the matter came down to the use of College Street.

Justice Beech-Jones was later told the matter had been resolved and granted leave to withdraw the application.

"I thank the parties for resolving something that arouses no doubt great passions," he said.

In the afternoon, Mr De Brennan told the judge an "in principle agreement" for an alternative route had been reached, which went "up to College Street but not on it".

He said for "abundant caution" maps were being drawn up to outline the exact route and the judge would then be asked to grant leave to withdraw the application.

In a statement published before the court was told of the compromise, CARR activist Eddie Stephenson said the protest was organised in opposition to Cardinal Pell's "long-standing position as a highly public figure of right-wing conservatism in Australian politics".

They cited his remarks on LGBT issues, including marriage equality.

"It is disgusting that anyone would want to celebrate Pell, least of all some of Australia's most powerful politicians," he said.

The group affirmed that the rally would go ahead on Thursday morning.

CARR Spokesman Kim Stern said the attendance of high-profile people at the funeral illustrated an intention to "keep his vile legacy alive."

"Especially in a state where religious institutions like schools still have the right to discriminate on the basis of sexuality," Mr Stern said. 

"We think it's important that there is a visible show of opposition outside Pell's funeral to send the message that the majority reject Pell and the sexist, homophobic politics he stood for."

Outside court Acting Assistant Commissioner Martin Fileman said a reasonable outcome had been achieved. 

"It was never the intention of NSW Police to come to court and stop or oppose any protest activity at the funeral ... on the contrary," he said. 

He said the buffer zone was necessary as thousands of mourners are estimated to visit Cathedral Square tomorrow .

Also prior to the compromise, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties criticised NSW Police for leaving it to "the eleventh hour" to launch the case. 

"The right to hold religious and other memorial services is important, but so is freedom of expression," President Josh Pallas said in a statement.

"That necessarily includes freedom to hold protests in the vicinity of funerals and memorial services."

Australia's highest-ranking Catholic died age 81 from heart complications during hip surgery in Rome last month.

His body is lying in state at Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral today.

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