Australian Cardinal Pell dies

The Australian Cardinal Pell was at times the number three in the Vatican.

Then he was found guilty of abuse, after more than a year in prison a court overturned the verdict. Pell has died at the age of 81.

Australian Cardinal George Pell has died in Rome at the age of 81. Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher announced. He wrote on Facebook that the news of Pell’s death “comes with a great shock to all of us.” He asked for prayers for the deceased. According to media reports citing Pell’s private secretary, the cardinal died in the Italian capital after a routine operation.

As finance chief under Pope Francis, Pell was for years the number three in the Vatican and the highest-ranking minister in the history of the Catholic Church to be convicted of child molestation.

First convicted, then acquitted

In December 2018, the former Curia cardinal was sentenced by a Melbourne court to six years in prison for allegedly molesting two choirboys after a mass in the sacristy of Melbourne Cathedral in 1996. Due to insufficient evidence – there was only one prosecution witness and an unlikely constellation of crimes – the verdict was overturned.

After around 13 months in prison, Pell was able to leave prison again. At the time he said: “I have always maintained my innocence while suffering great wrongs. That was overturned today by the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court. I have no grudge against my accuser, I do not want my acquittal to mean the injuries and adds to the bitterness felt by so many; there is enough hurt and bitterness.”

In the report of the Royal Commission in Australia from May 2020, Pell does not get off completely unscathed: As episcopal vicar in Ballarat in the early 1970s, he is said to have known, like others, that a notorious abuser was repeatedly transferred instead of being reported.

Pell attended Benedict XVI’s funeral

Despite allegations of abuse against him many years before the trial, Pell made a career for himself in the Church. In 2014, he was appointed by Pope Francis as Prefect of the Economic Secretariat to clean up the Vatican’s finances. Thus Pell, who was counted among the conservatives in the Vatican, came into conflict with old structures and habits of other responsible persons.

Just last week, Pell sat very close to the coffin of the late Pope Benedict XVI. After the ceremony, the incumbent Pope called him “a great man” – it was his formal rehabilitation.

Since the verdict was overturned, Pell has spent half the year in Rome and the other half in Australia. After his death, 125 of the 223 cardinals of the universal church are still under 80 years old and thus entitled to vote in the papal election.

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