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Cardinal George Pell dies at 81 in Rome after complications from hip replacement surgery 

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Cardinal George Pell has died in Rome at the age of 81 after complications from hip replacement surgery, the Vatican has confirmed. 

The Cardinal is reported to have successfully undergone the operation and was chatting with his anaesthetist when he went into sudden cardiac arrest.

Medics were unable to revive him.

His death comes just days after he attended the funeral of Pope Benedict in Rome last week. 

Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic, was ordained a priest in 1966, became a bishop in 1987, and was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and Archbishop of Sydney in 2001 before he was appointed as a Cardinal in 2003.

But Pell both dealt with sex abuse allegations in the church, and against himself, over an almost two decade period, before he was convicted of historical incidents in 2018. 

Cardinal George Pell has died in Rome at the age of 81 after complications from hip replacement surgery, the Vatican has confirmed

Cardinal George Pell had returned to the Vatican in 2020 after his convictions were overturned and was at Pope Benedict's funeral last week in his last public appearance

Cardinal George Pell had returned to the Vatican in 2020 after his convictions were overturned and was at Pope Benedict’s funeral last week in his last public appearance

In 2018, it was claimed in court that in 1996, while still dressed in his robes after celebrating Sunday mass, he had exposed himself and masturbated in front of a 13-year-old choirboy, then raped that boy’s 13-year-old friend.

Pell called those claims a ‘product of fantasy’ and ‘absolute rubbish’ but he served 404 days in prison of a six year jail sentence before the conviction was overturned on appeal by the High Court of Australia in 2020.

ABC journalist Louise Milligan, who exposed the allegations against the cardinal, on Wednesday said his death would be ‘triggering’ for his alleged victims.

‘George Pell is dead. This will be a very triggering day for a lot of people,’ said Milligan, a reporter for the ABC’s Four Corners program. 

‘Thinking of them.’

Cardinal George Pell was at the centre of sex abuse allegations for almost two decades and in 2018 he was convicted of historical incidents which he strenuously denied

The father of one of the altar boys he allegedly molested said he will press on with a civil case against the Catholic Church, but rued his lost chance to cross-examine the cardinal. 

‘The claim will continue against the church and whatever estate Pell has left behind,’ Lisa Flynn, Shine Lawyers Chief Legal Officer, said on the father’s behalf.

‘A civil trial likely would have provided the opportunity to cross examine Pell, and truly test his defence against these allegations.

‘There is still a great deal of evidence for this claim to rely on, and the court will be asked in due course to make its ruling on that evidence.’

Prior to his criminal court case Cardinal Pell was one of the highest ranked cardinals in the Vatican after he impressed church leaders with his handling of historical allegations of child sexual abuse by priests.

As Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, he established the ‘Melbourne Response’ to handle and investigate child sex abuse complaints which was hailed as a world-first.

In 2013 he was appointed as a member of the Council of Cardinals by Pope Francis and overhauled the church’s finances as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy where he earned the nickname as ‘the Vatican’s Treasurer’.

Cardinal George Pell (pictured with Pope Benedict XVI in 2008) was one of the highest ranked cardinals in the world and nicknamed the 'Vatican's Treasurer'

Cardinal George Pell (pictured with Pope Benedict XVI in 2008) was one of the highest ranked cardinals in the world and nicknamed the ‘Vatican’s Treasurer’

However Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that he knew of child sexual abuse by clergy by the 1970s but did not take adequate action to address it. 

Ballarat-born Pell said at the time he was ‘surprised’ by the findings and insisted the commission’s views were ‘not supported by evidence’.

He returned to the Vatican in 2020 after his convictions were overturned and prayed over the body of Pope Benedict XVI in St Peter’s Basilica last week.

In his final interview, Cardinal Pell spoke emotionally about the death of the Pope who resigned from the role in 2013 at the age of 85 because of his ill health.

‘I was very sad,’ Cardinal Pell said. ‘As a matter of fact, I was surprised how sad I was.

‘I knew he was sick and I knew he was dying. 

‘[But] I was rather pleased as I thought I had heard he was rallying and was disconcerting the experts and going to live a little bit longer.

‘I’d known him well enough, admired what he was about. I thought he was very good for the church.

‘It was sad to see another wonderful stage in church history ending.’

Dr Miles Pattenden of Australian Catholic University said Cardinal George Pell's death would come as 'a great shock to all Australian Catholics' but said he was a divisive figure

Dr Miles Pattenden of Australian Catholic University said Cardinal George Pell’s death would come as ‘a great shock to all Australian Catholics’ but said he was a divisive figure

Australian Catholic University’s Dr Miles Pattenden said the cardinal’s death would come as ‘a great shock to all Australian Catholics’ but said he was a divisive figure.

‘It was a very unexpected death – we knew Cardinal Pell was a fairly old man, but there had been no news about him being in ill health,’ he told ABC News. 

‘So this is a very sad day for many people.’

But he added: ‘George Pell was one of the most conservative figures of his generation and in the global church. 

‘He was sometimes a somewhat abrasive figure and people didn’t always warm to him.

‘He was a staunch defender of traditional positions on morality, and also on questions of liturgy.

‘That won him many admirers within the church – and just as many opponents.’

WHAT WAS CARDINAL PELL ACCUSED OF?

Cardinal George Pell was accused of molesting two choir boys in the late 1990s when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

He served 13 months in prison, before being acquitted in 2020 after the High Court quashed his convictions for child sexual assault.

‘My trial was not a referendum on the Catholic church, nor a referendum on how church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of paedophilia in the Church,’ he said upon his release.

‘The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not.’ 

In documents unsealed after his case, the child abuse royal commission found that it was ‘implausible’ that senior church figures hadn’t told Cardinal Pell child sexual abuse was happening in the Archdiocese of Ballarat.

There had been concerns these findings would prejudice a jury. 

The royal commission found: ‘We are also satisfied that 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.’

Cardinal Pell denied ever knowing of children being abused in the church when he worked there, including by paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale.

He said the child sex abuse court case would have been emotionally-draining and anguished for both the cardinal and alleged sex abuse victims.

But he said Cardinal Pell came out of prison with even stronger belief in God.

‘That must have been a very difficult and emotionally draining experience for him just as it was for all the victims of clerical sexual abuse over the years,’ he said. 

‘Pell wrote three volumes of journals from his time in prison which I have read and they certainly indicate a man who went through considerable anguish and suffering.

‘But he also found faith in Jesus because of that.’

Dr Pattenden said the cardinal’s legacy would be mixed among followers.

‘He has many admirers but also there are many people who hold him, at least indirectly, responsible for many of the problems which have assailed the Australian church over the past 20 or 30 years,’ he said. 

‘They wish that he’d been called to account in a fuller way for some of his decisions as Archbishop.’

Cardinal George Pell's legacy will be mixed among followers as he was a divisive figure, says Australian Catholic University's Dr Miles Pattenden

Cardinal George Pell’s legacy will be mixed among followers as he was a divisive figure, says Australian Catholic University’s Dr Miles Pattenden

The Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli paid tribute to Cardinal Pell on Wednesday after news broke of his death. 

‘Cardinal Pell was a very significant and influential church leader both in Australia and internationally, deeply committed to Christian discipleship,’ he said.

‘At this immediate moment, let our prayers go out to the God of Jesus Christ whom Cardinal Pell wholeheartedly believed in and followed, that he may be welcomed into eternal life.

‘Our prayers of comfort and condolence are also with his family, especially his only surviving sibling, David Pell.’

Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher added: ‘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 grieving him at this time.’

FROM ALLEGATIONS TO CONVICTION: A TIMELINE OF THE CARDINAL GEORGE PELL CASE 

1996

– Pell appointed Archbishop of Melbourne by Pope John Paul II

– Pell was alleged to have sexually abused two 13-year-old choirboys after a Sunday solemn mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral

– A second indecent act was allegedly committed by Pell against one of the choirboys in a corridor at the Cathedral.

2016

– The Herald Sun reports Pell is being investigated by Victoria Police’s Sano taskforce for ‘multiple offences’ committed while he was a priest in Ballarat and Archbishop of Melbourne

– Pell says the allegations are ‘without foundation and utterly false’ and calls for an inquiry into how the police investigation became public

– Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton asks the anti-corruption watchdog to investigate the leak, but denies it came from police

Cardinal George Pell, 77, was known as the Vatican's treasurer and had been granted a leave of absence while facing trial over child sex offences in Australia

Cardinal George Pell, 77, was known as the Vatican’s treasurer and had been granted a leave of absence while facing trial over child sex offences in Australia

– Pell gives evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s inquiry into abuse in Ballarat

– Under Vatican rules, Pell gives Pope Francis his resignation on his 75th birthday, as is customary. It is not accepted

– Victoria Police investigators hand over to the state’s Office of Public Prosecutions a brief of evidence on allegations of sexual abuse by Pell

– Officers travel to Rome to interview Pell over the abuse claims. He voluntarily participates in the interview.

2017

– Police present their final brief of evidence to the Office of Public Prosecutions to consider charges

– Prosecutors give police the green light to charge Pell.

JUNE 2017

– Pell is charged with multiple counts of historic child sex offences

– He denies the charges and vows to clear his name

– Lawyers for Pell appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court

– Pell takes leave from his Vatican finance chief role to fight the charges.

JULY 2017

– Pell returns to Australia

– He hires top barrister Robert Richter QC

– Supporters set up a fund to help Pell fight the charges.

MARCH 2018

– Prosecutors drop one of the charges against Pell

– A month-long committal hearing begins to determine if Pell will face trial

– Prosecutors withdraw more charges

– Mr Richter claims police conducted a ‘get Pell operation’ and accuses magistrate Belinda Wallington of bias. She refuses to disqualify herself from the case.

MAY 2018

– Magistrate Belinda Wallington orders Pell stand trial on some charges, but throws out others

– Pell formally pleads ‘not guilty’

– Two trials are ordered, separating the 1970s and 1990s allegations

– A Victorian County Court employee is sacked for looking up information on the Pell case.

AUGUST 2018

– The 1990s ‘cathedral trial’ begins in the Victorian County Court in Melbourne

– Pell pleads not guilty again to one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four of indecent acts with a child, over incidents involving two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.

SEPTEMBER 2018

– The jury is discharged, unable to reach a verdict following a week of deliberation. Some jurors weep.

NOVEMBER 2018

– A retrial begins. The jury aren’t told of the previous hung jury.

DECEMBER 2018

– Pell is found guilty on all charges by an unanimous jury

– Mr Richter says Pell will appeal

– Suppression orders prevent Australian media reporting the verdict but it spreads through international media within hours.

FEBRUARY 2019

– Hearings begin ahead of the second trial. Prosecutors drop another charge

– An appeal is filed against the cathedral trial conviction

– A County Court judge deems vital evidence inadmissible

– Prosecutors withdraw all remaining charges against Pell and drop a second trial over allegations Pell indecently assaulted boys in Ballarat in the 1970s when he was a parish priest

– Pell is due to be taken into custody on Wednesday February 27 as the plea hearing begins.

MARCH 2019

– Pell sentenced to six years in jail with a non-parole period of three years and eight months by County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd.

APRIL 2020

– Conviction is quashed on appeal by High Court of Australia. The court said that ‘there is a significant possibility … that an innocent person has been convicted.’

Australian Associated Press 

 

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