Cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranking Catholic minister convicted of child sex abuse before his 2020 acquittal, has died, according to his secretary. He was 81.
Father Joseph Hamilton confirmed Pell’s death on Tuesday evening local time after he was admitted to a hospital in Rome for hip replacement surgery. Hamilton said that while the surgery was successful, Pell subsequently went into cardiac arrest.
Born in the regional town of Ballarat, Australia, on June 8, 1941, Pell rose through the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church to become treasurer of the Vatican, considered by many to be the third highest position in the church.
He held the role from 2014 to 2019, in charge of Pope Francis’ financial reforms, which largely stalled when he was recalled to Australia to face allegations of historic sexual abuse.
He was convicted of those charges in 2018 and served 13 months in prison before the High Court of Australia acquitted him in April 2020. Pell has strongly denied the allegations, which he dismissed in a 2016 police interview as “a product of fantasy “.
In its two-page summary of the decision, the Supreme Court said the jury “should have expressed doubt as to the appellant’s guilt” and ordered the convictions to be overturned.
In a statement, the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, expressed sadness at Pell’s death. “This news comes as a great shock to all of us. Please pray for the repose of Cardinal Pell’s soul, for comfort and solace for his family and for all those who loved him and are grieving at this time,” he said in a Facebook post.
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