Cardinal George Pell, a one-time financial adviser to Pope Francis who was jailed over child sex abuse charges before his convictions were unanimously overturned, died in Rome. He was 81 years old.
The former Vatican treasurer is Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic cleric, and the most senior Church figure to be imprisoned for such offences. Pell died of heart complication after hip surgery, said Archbishop Peter Comensoli, Pell’s successor as archbishop of Melbourne, according to the news agency AP. Pell was in Rome to attend the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI last week.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese informed a service is being planned at the Vatican besides getting Pell’s body back to Australia. “For many people, particularly of the Catholic faith, this will be a difficult day and I express my condolences to all those who are mourning today,” Albanese was quoted as saying by AP.
Who’s Cardinal George Pell?
Pell was the former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney and held the position of the third-highest-ranked official in the Vatican after Pope Francis appointed him in 2014 to reform the Vatican’s notoriously opaque finances.
He worked for three years as prefect of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy trying to impose international budgeting, accounting, and transparency standards.But he came back to Australia in 2017 to face trial over child sex charges dating from his time as archbishop.
Pell was convicted by a Victoria state County Court jury for molesting two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in the latest 1990s shortly after he had become archbishop of Melbourne. Pell served 404 days in solitary confinement before the full-bench of the High Court unanimously overturned his convictions in 2020.
However a civil lawsuit – launched by the father of a choirboy that prosecutors alleged Cardinal Pell abused – is still underway.Meanwhile a landmark inquiry found that he knew of child sexual abuse by priests in Australia as early as the 1970s but failed to take action.
Pell was born on June 8, 1941. He was the eldest of three children to a heavyweight champion boxer and publican also named George Pell, an Anglican. His mother Margaret Lillian (nee Burke) was from an Irish Catholic family.He grew up in the Victorian regional town of Ballarat. At 193 centimeters (6 foot, 4 inches) tall, he was a talented Australian Rules Footballer.
He was offered a professional football contract to play for Richmond but opted for a seminary instead.