Cardinal Pell, Convicted Then Cleared of Child Sex Abuse, Dead at 81

Cardinal George Pell suffered heart complications following hip surgery
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 11, 2023 12:21 AM CST
Cardinal Convicted, Then Cleared, of Child Sex Abuse Dead at 81
Cardinal George Pell walks onto the stage for the opening mass for World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, July 15, 2008.   (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)

Cardinal George Pell, a onetime financial adviser to Pope Francis who spent 404 days in solitary confinement in his native Australia on child sex abuse charges before his convictions were unanimously overturned, died Tuesday in Rome. He was 81, the AP reports. Pell suffered fatal heart complications following hip surgery, said Archbishop Peter Comensoli, Pell's successor as archbishop of Melbourne. Pell had been in Rome to attend the funeral last week of Pope Benedict XVI. “This news comes as a great shock to all of us,” Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher said in a statement on Facebook. “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 said plans were underway to hold a service at the Vatican and to bring Pell's body back to Australia, where it is expected to be buried in Sydney after the requiem Mass in Rome. “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 said. Journalist Lucie Morris-Marr, who wrote the book Fallen about Pell's trial, said on Twitter that Pell's death “will be terribly triggering for many Australians impacted by Catholic child sexual abuse and not just those involved in his trial.”

Pell, the former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, became the third-highest ranked official in the Vatican after Pope Francis tapped him in 2014 to reform the Vatican's notoriously opaque finances as the Holy See's first-ever finance czar. He spent three years as prefect of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy, where he tried to impose international budgeting, accounting and transparency standards. But Pell returned to Australia in 2017 in an attempt to clear his name of child sex charges dating from his time as archbishop. A Victoria state County Court jury initially convicted him of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the latest 1990s. The convictions were overturned in 2020.

(More Cardinal George Pell stories.)

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