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Cardinal George Pell dies aged 81

#Cardinal #George #Pell #dies #aged

Cardinal George Pell — a giant of the Catholic Church who was convicted and later cleared of sexual abuse in Australia — has died in Rome aged 81, a church official confirmed Wednesday. 

“It is with deep sadness that I can confirm His Eminence, Cardinal George Pell, passed away in Rome in the early hours of this morning,” Australian Archbishop Anthony Fisher said in a statement provided to AFP.

“This news comes as a great shock to all of us. 

“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.”

Pell died of complications related to a hip surgery he had undergone in a Rome hospital on Tuesday, according to Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera. 

Before he was imprisoned in Australia, Pell was widely seen as the right-hand man of Pope Francis and the third most powerful figure in the church. 

– 12 months in prison –

In 2014, he was tasked with rooting out church corruption as the head of the Secretariat for the Economy. 

Pell voluntarily returned to Australia in 2017 to face charges of sexual abuse, which he strenuously denied until his death.

The first trial ended in a hung jury, but a second trial found Pell guilty of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in the 1990s.

In 2019, he was sentenced to six years in prison and registered as a sex offender. 

He spent 12 months in Barwon Prison near Melbourne before the Australian High Court quashed his convictions following an appeal — opening the door for his return to Rome in late 2020.

Pell was embraced by the church despite the scandal and was received by the Pope inside the Apostolic Palace in 2021. 

He was among those in attendance at the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI at St Peter’s Square last week. 

– Criticised by inquiry –

Although cleared by the courts, a separate government inquiry criticised Pell’s apparent indifference to sexual abuse claims as he rose to prominence in Australia’s Catholic Church.

“By 1973, Cardinal Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy but that he also had considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it,” a Royal Commission concluded in 2020. 

Born in a small regional town in the state of Victoria, Pell climbed higher in the Catholic Church than any other Australian before him.

Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli on Wednesday said Pell was a “very significant and influential church leader, both in Australia and internationally”. 

Former conservative Australian prime minister Tony Abbott previously called Pell “one of the greatest churchmen that Australia has seen”.

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