Australian Cardinal George Pell dies at the age of 81

Pell’s 2018 conviction on sexual assault charges shocked the Catholic Church, but was later overturned.

Cardinal George Pell in red robes as head of the Catholic Church in Australia. He is pictured in profile against a black backdrop and is carrying a gold staff in his left hand.
George Pell once headed the Catholic Church in Australia and was the third most senior official in the Vatican [File: Daniel Munoz/Reuters]

Australian Cardinal George Pell, a former treasurer of the Vatican who was the most senior member of the Catholic clergy to be convicted of child sex abuse before his convictions were overturned, has died at the age of 81.

Pell died in Rome on Tuesday night, his private secretary said.

He was once the third-highest-ranked Catholic in the Vatican after earlier serving as the archbishop of Melbourne and archbishop of Sydney.

Archbishop Peter Comensoli, the current archbishop of Melbourne, said Pell had died from heart complications following hip surgery.

“Cardinal Pell was a very significant and influential Church leader, both in Australia and internationally, deeply committed to Christian discipleship,” he said in a statement on Facebook.

Pell spent 13 months in prison before Australia’s highest court in 2020 quashed his conviction for sexually assaulting two choir boys in the 1990s.

The decision allowed the then-78-year-old Pell to walk free. He was the most senior member of the church to be accused of historical sexual abuse in a scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church worldwide.

Pell was the Vatican’s economy minister from 2014 until he took leave of absence in 2017 to return to Australia to face the assault charges.

He had been living in Rome since his acquittal and had several meetings with Pope Francis. He attended the funeral last week of Pope Benedict XVI.

Even before the sexual assault allegations, Pell was a polarising figure in Australia, revered by conservative Catholics but scorned by liberals for his staunch opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion and women’s ordination.

Source: News Agencies