Cardinal George Pell dies in Rome
By Salvatore Cernuzio
Australian Cardinal George Pell, prefect emeritus of the Secretariat for the Economy, died Tuesday evening, around 9 pm, in Rome. He was 81 years old. The Cardinal died following heart complications that arose after a long-planned hip operation. A few days ago he had concelebrated Benedict XVI's funeral in St Peter's Square.
In Rome after his trial in Australia
Cardinal Pell — who had been suffering from heart problems for some time and had been implanted with a pacemaker since 2010 — had returned to Rome in 2020, two years after his trial in Australia over allegations of sexual abuse of minors in the 1990s.
In June 2017, the Cardinal had been remanded for trial and returned to his country to stand trial. Pope Francis had granted him a leave of absence to be able to defend himself against the charges. After a lengthy judicial hearing, the County Court of the State of Victoria had ordered the Cardinal's arrest, revoking the bail granted to him after his indictment in December 2018. Sentenced in March 2019 to a prison term of six years, the Supreme Court of Australia, in light of the numerous formal flaws in the trial procedures pointed out by Judge Mark Weinberg, admitted the request for appeal filed by Pell's lawyers. Subsequently, the Cardinal was completely exonerated by a High Court ruling in April 2020. The ruling was welcomed by the Holy See, which said in a statement that it had always placed its trust in the Australian judicial authority.
Prior to his acquittal, Cardinal Pell spent 404 days in a cell in two maximum security prisons in Melbourne and Barwon from February to July 2019. It was a harsh experience, which included a period in solitary confinement, which the Cardinal recorded in a memoir entitled “Prison Journal,” published in three volumes by Ignatius Press. Pell made daily entries recalling on his encounters with other prisoners, the visits and letters he received, and the prayers and liturgies that accompanied him during his imprisonment. “My experience shows how much the Church's teachings help us, how much praying and seeking God's grace helps," he said in an interview with Vatican Radio - Vatican News. In that same interview, he explained that he wrote continuously during his imprisonment because, “I thought it might be helpful for those who are in difficulty, for those who are going through a time of suffering, like I was.” He added, “Then I thought that keeping a diary would be of some interest from a historical point of view, because there weren't many Cardinals who had the experience of prison.”
Work in the Roman Curia
Born in Ballarat, Victoria, in 1941, Archbishop first of Melbourne and then of Sydney, Pell was later called by Pope Francis, on 13 April 2013, to join the Council of Cardinals to study a reform project and assist him in governing the Church. On 24 February 2014, he was appointed prefect of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy, initiating a series of financial reforms. He left the two posts in December 2018 and February 2019, respectively.
The Pope's remembrance
After returning to Rome following his trial and imprisonment, Cardinal Pell was received by Pope in the Apostolic Palace on 12 October 2021. On that occasion, Pope Francis thanked Pell for his “witness.” In a pre-Christmas interview with Mediaset that same year, the Pontiff recalled the prescient work done by the Cardinal in the economic sphere, pointing out that due to a “calumny” — referring to the allegations of abuse in Australia — Pell had had to “distance himself from this administration.”
“It was Pell who drew up the outline of how we could move forward,” the Pope said. “He is a great man and we owe him so much.”
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