Cardinal George Pell, the former financial advisor to Pope Francis who spent over a year in solitary confinement in Australia before his child abuse convictions were overturned, died last week at the age of 81.
Pell passed away in Rome just days after attending the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI after suffering fatal heart complications following hip surgery, according to Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli.
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher announced that after a requiem mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Pell’s body would be returned to Australia for a funeral mass and buried in the crypt at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney.
The former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, Pell became the third highest-ranking official in the Vatican after he was chosen by Pope Francis to reform the Vatican’s finances as the Holy See’s first-ever prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in 2014.
But in 2017, Pell was forced to return to Australia after he faced child abuse charges dating from his time as archbishop. In 2018, Pell was convicted of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the late 1990s after he became archbishop of Melbourne. He served 404 days in solitary confinement before the full bench of the High Court unanimously overturned his conviction on appeal in 2020.
After his release from prison, Pell returned to Rome. In a December interview with Italy’s Mediaset, Pope Francis credited Archbishop Pell with placing the Vatican on the path of financial transparency. The pope lamented that Pell was forced to abandon his effort to face the “calumny” of the abuse charges in Australia.
“It was Pell who laid out how we could go forward,” the pope said. “He’s a great man and we owe him so much.” Born on June 8, 1941, Pell was the eldest of three children whose father George was a heavy weight champion boxer and an Anglican. His mother, Margaret Lillian was from an Irish Catholic family.
Pell grew up in the Victorian regional town of Ballarat. At six foot, 4 inches, Pell was an Australian Rules Footballer who was offered a professional football contract to play for Richmond. However, Pell chose to attend seminary instead.