Convicted Cardinal Pell dies at 81

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THE COUNTRY – Cardinal George Pell, who was the most senior Catholic cleric to be convicted of child sex abuse and spent 404 days in solitary confinement in his native Australia before his conviction was overturned, died on Tuesday in Rome . He was 81.

Pell died after undergoing hip surgery at Salvator Mundi hospital, said a friend, the Rev. Robert MacCulloch, priest in Rome. He had been in Rome for the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI last week.

“This news comes as a great surprise to all of us,” said the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, in a statement on Facebook. “Pray for the repose of Cardinal Pell’s soul, for comfort and comfort his family, and to all who loved him and are mourning him at this time.”

Pell, the former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, became the Vatican’s third-highest-ranking official after Pope Francis tapped him in 2014 to reform the Vatican’s disreputable finances as his ‘ the Holy See’s first ever financial czar.

He spent three years as chief executive of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy, where he tried to impose international budgeting, accounting and transparency standards.

But Pell returned to his native Australia in 2017 in an attempt to clear his name of child sex allegations dating back to his time as archbishop.

A jury in Victoria County Court originally convicted him of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in the late 1990s shortly after he became Archbishop. on Melbourne. Pell served 404 days in solitary confinement before a full bench of the High Court unanimously overturned his convictions in 2020.

While in prison, Pell kept a journal recording everything from his prayers and Scripture readings to his conversations with visiting chaplains and prison guards. The magazine turned into a triptych, “Prison Journal”, and the money went out to pay his substantial legal bills.

In the diary, Pell reflected on the nature of suffering, the papacy of Pope Francis and the humiliation of solitary confinement as he struggles to clear his name for a crime he says he did not commit. he ever did.

Pell and his supporters believe he has been absolved of all crimes committed by the Australian Catholic Church on sexual abuse. Victims and critics say it exposed everything wrong with the church’s handling of the problem.

“Looking back, I was probably too hopeful that I would get bail,” Pell said in a 2021 interview at his home in Rome, crediting his “glass half-full” attitude full” of his Christian faith.

Even after his acquittal, Pell’s reputation was still tarnished by the scandal.

Australia’s Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found it knew of clergy molesting children in the 1970s and failed to take adequate action to address it.

Pell later said in a statement that he was “surprised” by the Commission’s findings. “Evidence does not support these views,” Pell’s statement said.

With his rather violent sensibilities in Australia, Pell often clashed with the Vatican’s Italian old guard during the three years he lived in Rome trying to get a hand on the Vatican’s assets and spending. It was confirmed when Vatican prosecutors put 10 people, including his one-time nemesis, on trial in 2021 for various alleged financial crimes.

After Pell returned to Rome after being released from prison, he had a well-publicized private audience with Francis.

“He recognized what I was trying to do,” Pell said of the pope in an interview in 2020. “And, you know, I think it’s been sadly confirmed by revelations and developments. “

Pell was born on June 8, 1941, the eldest of three children to a heavyweight champion boxer and republican also named George Pell, an Anglican. His mother Margaret Lillian (nee Burke) was from an Irish Catholic family.

Pell grew up in the Victorian provincial town of Ballarat. At 193 centimeters (6 feet, 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 conference instead.

While in Melbourne, he established the Melbourne Response which was the world’s leading protocol to investigate complaints of clerical sexual abuse and to provide compensation to victims.

But many victims of abuse criticized the system and compensation payments.

McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia.

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