Cardinal Pell lies in state, funeral plans overshadowed by memo reveal

VATICAN CITY, Jan 13 (Reuters) – Australian Cardinal George Pell lay in state on Friday, with funeral preparations overshadowed by revelations he authored an anonymous note calling Pope Francis’ pontificate a disaster.

Pell’s closed dark brown wooden coffin was placed on the floor of the small Church of St. Stephen of the Abyssinians, inside the walls of the Vatican, a few yards (meters) from the Santa Marta residence where Francis lives.

Early Friday, a reporter saw around 20 people kneeling in prayer in the church as it opened for 10 hours of lying in state.

Pell, 81, who spent more than a year in jail before being acquitted of sex abuse allegations in his native Australia, died Tuesday night in a Rome hospital of heart failure.

The small church, which is normally used for baptisms and weddings, is one of the oldest in the Vatican. Parts of it date back to the 5th century and it is one of the few structures not demolished to make way for the construction of the current St. Peter’s Basilica, which began in the early 16th century.

His funeral is due to take place on Saturday just across the road in St. Peter’s.

In keeping with the tradition of deceased cardinals, Mass will be said by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, currently Italian Giovanni Battista Re, and the Pope will give the final blessing and recommendation.

His surprise death from cardiac arrest during what was to be routine hip replacement surgery was followed by another shock the following day.

Last year, respected Italian journalist Sandro Magister, who has a long track record of receiving leaked Vatican documents, published an anonymous note circulating in the Vatican condemning Pope Francis’ papacy as a “catastrophe.”

Magister revealed on his widely read blog Settimo Cielo (Seventh Heaven) that it was Pell who wrote the memo and gave him permission to publish it under the pseudonym “Demos” – Greek for the people. He understood what the author said were the qualities of the next pope.

“Everyone here is talking about it,” said a Vatican official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said he had no doubt that Pell was the author, but said the revelation should have been delayed until after his funeral “out of respect for the dead”.

Father Joseph Hamilton, Pell’s personal secretary, declined to comment on Magister’s report, and Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said he had no comment.

Pell will be buried in the crypt of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, where he served as archbishop, the Australian Church has announced.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Nick Macfie

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