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VATICAN (ChurchMilitant.com) - Australian Cdl. George Pell has died.
As reported by The Australian, Cdl. Pell died in a Vatican hospital on Tuesday of cardiac arrest shortly after having a hip replacement.
Catholics and others on social media are expressing sorrow at his passing.
Pell was born on June 8, 1941. He was an exceptional athlete as a young man. In 1959, he signed a contract to become a professional Australian rules football player, although he later decided to pursue a priestly vocation. He was ordained a priest forever in 1966. In the years that followed, he went on to earn a doctorate from the University of Oxford and a master's degree from Monash University in Melbourne.
After serving nearly a decade as an auxiliary bishop, he became archbishop of Melbourne in 1996. Five years later, he was installed as archbishop of Sydney. He was elevated to the rank of cardinal in 2003. In 2014, Pope Francis made Pell the prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy and charged him with cleaning up the Vatican's finances amid an onslaught of corruption.
Pell has been known for theological orthodoxy and "conservative" leanings — defending Church teaching and condemning moral evils.
In 2009, he spoke favorably about ad orientem worship — the traditional orientation for Mass with the priest facing the same direction as the congregation — saying:
I am keen that we strengthen the vertical dimension of the liturgy, if we can, in the popular understanding, so that it's very obviously not just community-centred, it's God-centred, it's an act of worship. I'm very sympathetic to that. I'm even sympathetic for the Canon of the Mass that the priest has his back to the people.
In 2017, Cdl. Pell was accused in Australia of sexually abusing choir boys in the 1990s. He denied the allegations from the outset and chose to return to his native Australia to fight the charges in hopes of clearing his name.
But in December 2018, a jury found Pell guilty of the sex crimes. The judge ordered media silence on the conviction, threatening legal action against media organizations that reported on it — even organizations based overseas, such as this apostolate. A few months later — in March 2019 — the court sentenced the prelate to six years' imprisonment.
Cardinal Pell and his attorneys appealed. Eventually, the High Court of Australia overturned the conviction in 2020. At that point, Pell had spent about 13 months in prison.
Volume I of Pell's prison journal was published in December 2020. The second volume came out a few months later.
Some have speculated the abuse charges against Pell were a form of retaliation from his enemies in Rome — enemies who did not want financial corruption to be exposed. Pell himself said in a December 2020 interview he "suspected" he may have been framed.
He observed, "All the major figures who have worked together on financial reform, each of us — with very few exceptions I believe — has been attacked by the media in terms of reputation in one way or another."