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Australian Cardinal George Pell dies in Rome at 81

Pell's 2018 conviction for child sex abuse was later overturned.

Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s highest ranking Catholic prelate, died in Rome on Tuesday evening at the age of 81.

Pell was the most senior Catholic official to be convicted of child sex abuse, spending 404 days in prison in Australia, before the ruling was overturned in 2020.

The cardinal, who served as the Vatican treasurer from 2014 to 2019, died from heart complications following a hip operation at a Rome hospital, according to the National Catholic Register.

A memorial service for Cardinal Pell will be held at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney where his remains will be buried, Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese has confirmed.

“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.

A divisive figure in Australia, Pell was regarded as a formidable, no-nonsense character and was well known for his outspoken views on conservative and doctrinal matters.

Many people on social media have marked his death by expressing their support for survivors of child sex abuse.

In 2014 Pope Francis appointed Pell to lead the newly established Secretariat for the Economy to oversee the Vatican's economic and administrative affairs.

Pell served in that role until 2019 when he was called back to Australia to face allegations of historical sex abuse, charges he denied strenuously, in a high-profile case rocked the Roman Catholic Church worldwide.

He was convicted of those charges and served 13 months in prison before Australia’s High Court quashed his conviction in April 2020. He subsequently returned to Rome and was welcomed by Pope Francis.

 

Born in 1941 in Ballarat in the state of Victoria in southeastern Australia, Pell became a bishop in 1987 and was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003.

He served as Archbishop of Sydney (2001–2014) and Archbishop of Melbourne (1996–2001) before taking on the role of Vatican treasurer and initiating a series of financial reforms.

Pell was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the papal conclaves that elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and Pope Francis in 2013.

Pell's death in Rome came just five days after he concelebrated the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

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Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia