Cardinal George Pell, convicted then acquitted of kid intercourse abuse, dies at 81

Cardinal George Pell, a conservative theologian who served because the Vatican finance chief for Pope Francis and who was acquitted after changing into essentially the most senior Catholic cleric to be convicted of sexually assaulting kids, died Tuesday in Rome. He was 81.

His dying was confirmed by Peter Comensoli, one in all his successors because the archbishop of Melbourne, who mentioned the cardinal died of coronary heart problems after present process hip surgical procedure. Cardinal Pell had been in Rome to attend Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s funeral final week.

Cardinal Pell spent greater than a yr in solitary confinement in his native Australia after a jury discovered him responsible in 2018 of assaulting two teenage choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral whereas he was the town’s archbishop within the Nineteen Nineties. His conviction was overturned by a prime Australian court docket in 2020.

The cardinal remained a polarizing determine in Australia and the church even after his acquittal. For his detractors, he was an emblem of the abuse disaster. To his supporters, he was a scapegoat who had been focused by enemies of the church.

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Cardinal Pell, who additionally served as archbishop of Sydney, arrange one of many world’s first packages to compensate victims of kid sexual abuse. However critics say he presided over a tradition of secrecy, utilizing this system — which required victims to waive their proper to civil authorized motion — to silence them.

A top-level Australian inquiry, referred to as a Royal Fee, started investigating baby sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and different establishments in 2013. It discovered that the cardinal was conscious of clergy molesting kids within the Nineteen Seventies however didn’t take adequate steps to handle it.

The cardinal advised the inquiry in 2016 that he didn’t know whether or not the offenses of Gerald Ridsdale — a priest who was moved from parish to parish by the church within the Nineteen Seventies and Nineteen Eighties, and later convicted on dozens of fees of sexually abusing kids — had been frequent data.

“It’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me,” Cardinal Pell advised the inquiry. “The suffering, of course, was real and I very much regret that, but I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated.”

Cardinal Pell gave proof to the inquiry through video hyperlink from Rome after his attorneys mentioned he was too unwell to journey to Australia. Pell suffered from hypertension, coronary heart illness and cardiac dysfunction, and a physician had concluded {that a} extended flight was harmful to his well being.

George Pell was born in Ballarat, a gold-mining city in Australia’s Victoria state, on June 8, 1941. His father was a nonpracticing Anglican and heavyweight boxing champion. His mom was devoutly Catholic.

In his youth, he performed Australian guidelines soccer, and his pure athleticism and towering body — he was effectively over 6 ft tall — noticed him signal a contract with a serious membership whereas nonetheless a young person. He selected to pursue a clerical profession as an alternative, and was ordained at St Peter’s Basilica in 1966.

He rapidly rose by way of the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, changing into essentially the most highly effective Australian within the clergy’s historical past, and an ally of Pope Benedict when he led the church, and later, Pope Francis. (Benedict made a uncommon go to to Australia in 2008.)

Cardinal Pell held hard-line views on modern social points, together with same-sex relations, abortion and the position of girls within the clergy. He solid shut ties with Australia’s conservative political institution, together with former prime minister Tony Abbott, a pious Catholic, who visited him in jail.

In a 2001 radio interview, the cardinal advised {couples} contemplating divorce needs to be provided monetary incentives to remain collectively. In the identical interview, he mentioned there was “no possibility” the church would ever have girls clergymen. He as soon as described the film “Avatar” — which on the time was the highest-grossing movie in Australian historical past — as “old-fashioned pagan propaganda.”

In 2002, Cardinal Pell was criticized by sufferer help teams for his comment that “abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people.” He didn’t again away from the remark when questioned by the Sydney Morning Herald days later, though he claimed his authentic assertion had been quoted out of context as a result of it didn’t embody his condemnation of intercourse abuse within the church.

In distinction along with his staunchly conservative stance on the church’s ethical teachings, the cardinal was a monetary reformer who was recruited to the Vatican by Pope Francis in 2014 and charged with overhauling its funds. That target transparency — honed throughout his early years in Australia — noticed him lock horns with the church’s forms over his makes an attempt to audit the Vatican’s property and spending.

Though Cardinal Pell’s profession was successfully derailed when he returned to Australia in 2017 to defend himself in opposition to allegations of sexual assault, one legacy of his time scrutinizing the books was a spiraling Vatican corruption investigation.

In a press release Wednesday, Abbott, the right-wing former prime minister, described Cardinal Pell’s incarceration as “a modern form of crucifixion; reputationally at least a kind of living death.”

Within the 2018 sexual assault trial, the prosecution relied on the proof of a former choirboy, who was then in his 30s and had a younger household. He reported the alleged abuses to police in 2015, after one other former choirboy died of a drug overdose. The opposite choirboy didn’t make public accusations in opposition to Cardinal Pell. (A separate case of sexual abuse was dropped by the prosecution after the trial started.)

Cardinal Pell’s accuser, whose identify was not publicly disclosed, mentioned he revered the choice to acquit and accepted the result. He mentioned it highlighted the difficulties in baby sexual abuse instances of satisfying a prison court docket that the offense occurred past all affordable doubt.

“It is a very high standard to meet — a heavy burden,” he mentioned in a press release on the time. “But the price we pay for weighting the system in favor of the accused is that many sexual offenses against children go unpunished.”

Miles Pattenden, a historian with the Australian Catholic College, mentioned the cardinal was a “deeply polarizing figure” and admired by a minority of Catholic Australians for his championing of conventional morality.

However many Australians noticed him as “complicit in covering up the sexual abuse of children,” Pattenden mentioned, and as a person who “stood behind some of the now-convicted abuser priests to a degree which was not sensible.”

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