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Cardinal George Pell passes away at 81

His Eminence Cardinal George Pell AC who died in Rome from a cardiac arrest following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, 10 January 2023, will be buried in the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral Sydney.

A Requiem Mass will be held at the Vatican early next week before the Cardinal’s body is repatriated to Australia for a Requiem Mass at St Mary’s and burial.

Cardinal Pell was 81. The hip replacement was successful however the Cardinal went into cardiac arrest while talking to an anaesthetist in the recovery ward and could not be revived.

He had suffered from a heart condition for a number of years but friends say he was “well and in good form” prior to the operation.

Cardinal Pell’s death came just a few days after he attended the Requiem Mass for long-time friend Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Most Rev Anthony Randazzo DD JCL, Bishop of Broken Bay, along with many colleagues at the Diocese, were deeply saddened to hear of the Cardinal’s sudden passing and are remembering him as a leader, friend, and colleague.

“We’ve lost a great man and a wonderful Bishop,” said Bishop Randazzo, who spent five years working in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where Cardinal Pell had been a member from 1990 to 2000.

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Cardinal George Pell when Pope Benedict XVI was in Sydney for World Youth Day 2008.

“This is a very historic moment. Cardinal Pell has been a towering figure in the life of the Church in Australia and in the Church universal,” said Rev Dr David Ranson, Vicar General for the Diocese of Broken Bay.

“His contribution has been immense, and he has shaped the life of the Church in many different ways, not without a great deal of personal suffering.”

A proponent of Catholic Orthodoxy on matters of faith and morals throughout his episcopal career, Pell was also considered by some to be a progressive on many social issues.

He was a vocal critic of the mandatory detention policy for asylum seekers in Australia, calling for “empathy and compassion”. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Pell called for the need to deepen friendship and understanding with Muslims.

While his later life was plagued by charges of sexual abuse, for which the convictions were quashed, away from the spotlight, he played a significant role in reforming the Vatican’s finances. Throughout his episcopal career, he also played a significant role in contributing to matters of liturgy, doctrine and pastoral care, through numerous roles.

Born in Ballarat, Victoria on 8 June 1941, Pell was a renowned athlete in his youth, playing for the Richmond Football Club in the VFL reserves before turning his ambitions towards the priesthood.

He entered the seminary in 1960 at Corpus Christi College in Werribee. In 1963, he was sent to continue his studies in the Pontifical Urban University in Rome.

He was ordained a priest by Cardinal Gregorio Pietro Agagianian at St. Peter's Basilica on 16 December 1966. He received a Licentiate of Sacred Theology degree from the Pontificia Università Urbaniana in 1967, and earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Oxford in church history in 1971.

In 1971, he returned to Australia and served as an assistant priest in Swan Hill. He served at a parish in Ballarat East from 1973 to 1983, before becoming administrator of Bungaree in 1984. He became Episcopal Vicar for Education in 1973, director of the Aquinas campus of the Institute of Catholic Education in 1974 and principal of the Institute of Catholic Education in 1981. He became rector of Corpus Christi College in 1985, serving until 1987.

Pell was appointed an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne in 1987. He was named the seventh Archbishop of Melbourne on 16 July 1996. He was appointed the eighth Archbishop of Sydney on 26 March 2001.

Through his time as Archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, he had developed a protocol for dealing with complaints of child sexual abuse, encouraging victims to come forward to receive support.

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Cardinal Pell meeting with Pope Francis.

Through the 1990s, he began to work closely with the Vatican. He was a consultor of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace from 1990 to 1995 and a member from 2002. From 1990 to 2000 he was a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In 2002, he was named President of the Vox Clara commission to advise the Congregation for Divine Worship on English translations of liturgical texts.

In 2003, Pope John Paul II announced Pell would be appointed to the College of Cardinals. He was one of the cardinal electors in 2005 who elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.
He played an instrumental role in lobbying for Sydney to host the 2008 World Youth Day, an event which drew approximately half a million young people from 200 countries.

In 2013, he participated in the papal conclave which elected Pope Francis.

Pell’s biggest appointment came in 2014, when he was appointed to be the first prefect of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy. In this role, he set about reforming and organising the Vatican’s finances, bringing them into the 21st century, increasing transparency and consistency.

In 2017, he was charged with a series of sexual assault offences against several victims. He faced court in 2018 and was convicted later that year. He was sentenced in 2019 to six years in prison. Following appeal to the Supreme Court of Victoria and then to the High Court of Australia, his convictions were unanimously quashed, and he was acquitted. In their judgement, the High Court said, “there is a significant possibility ... that an innocent person has been convicted.”

Following his release from prison, he spent most of his final years in Vatican City.

He will be remembered for his influential role in guiding the Church in Australia through one of its darkest periods, while contributing significantly to the universal Church in matters of liturgy, doctrine, financing, and pastoral care.
May he Rest in Peace.