Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic official convicted of child sex abuse before his ruling was overturned in 2020, has passed away at 81.
Father Joseph Hamilton confirmed the death on Tuesday evening local time, after Pell was admitted to a Rome hospital for hip replacement surgery. The operation was successful, however, Pell suffered a cardiac arrest afterwards.
Born in Ballarat, Australia on June 8, 1941, Pell rose through the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church to become the Vatican treasurer, which was considered by many the third highest position in the Church.
Cardinal George Pell, who served as Vatican treasurer under Pope Francis from 2014 to 2019, has been acquitted by Australia’s High Court of all historical sex abuse charges. The court ruled that the jury “ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt” and ordered the convictions quashed. Pell had always maintained his innocence, referring to the allegations as “a product of fantasy” during a police interview in 2016.
During his time as Vatican treasurer, Pell was in charge of implementing financial reforms which largely stalled when he was called back to Australia to face the charges.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, has expressed his sadness at the death of Cardinal Pell on Tuesday. In a Facebook post, he said, “This news comes as a great shock to all of us. Please pray for the repose of the soul of Cardinal Pell, for comfort and consolation for his family and for all of those who loved him and are grieving him at this time.”
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also extended his condolences to Fisher and all those mourning the death. He said, “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.”
Although Pell is a divisive figure, with many on Twitter expressing their support for the survivors of child sex abuse, many have come together to mourn the passing of a leader of the Catholic Church.
In December 1966, Cardinal George Pell was ordained a Catholic priest. He pursued further studies at prestigious universities such as Rome, Oxford, and Cambridge. In 1971, he returned to Australia and spent the next two decades as a priest in several parishes in Victoria and New South Wales.