On Tuesday evening, 10 January, Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop emeritus of Sydney, Australia, and Prefect emeritus of the Secretariat for the Economy died in Rome. Upon learning of the death of the Cardinal, Pope Francis expressed his condolences in a telegram addressed to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Dean of the College of Cardinals. The following is a translation of the Pope’s telegram which was written in Italian, accompanied by a brief biography of the late Cardinal.
I have learned with sorrow the news of the death of Cardinal George Pell, Prefect emeritus of the Secretariat for the Economy. I wish to express my closeness to you and to the College of Cardinals, especially to his dear brother David and the other members of his family. I offer my sincere condolences, remembering with heartfelt gratitude his constant and committed witness, his dedication to the Gospel and to the Church, and especially his diligent collaboration with the Holy See in its recent economic reform, for which he had laid the foundations with determination and wisdom. I raise prayers for the repose of this faithful servant, who unwaveringly followed his Lord with perseverance even in the hour of trial, that he may be received into the joy of heaven and receive the reward of eternal peace. I send my blessing to you, to the family of the late Cardinal and to all who share in the mourning of his passing.
Vatican City, 11 January 2023
A similar telegram was sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State
Australian Cardinal George Pell, Prefect emeritus of the Secretariat for the Economy, passed away on Tuesday evening, 10 January, in Rome at the age of 81, following heart complications that arose after a long-planned hip operation. Just last week, he had concelebrated Benedict xvi ’s funeral in Saint Peter’s Square.
Cardinal Pell, who had been suffering from heart problems for some time and had been implanted with a pacemaker in 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. The Cardinal was subsequently 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 that 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 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 media. He explained that he wrote continuously during his imprisonment because he “thought it might be helpful for those who are in difficulty, for those who are going through a time of suffering, like I was”.
Cardinal Pell was born in Ballarat, Australia, on 8 June 1941. After completing his studies at Corpus Christi College in Werribee, he attended the College of Propaganda Fide in Rome. He was ordained a priest on 16 December 1966 in Saint Peter’s Basilica. He obtained a license in Theology at the Urbaniana University and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Church History from Oxford University in 1971. He served as episcopal vicar for education in the Diocese of Ballarat from 1973-1984, President of the Institute of Catholic Education and editor of the diocesan newspaper “Light”, from 1979 to 1984. After obtaining a Masters of Education degree from Monash University in 1982, he served as Rector of Corpus Christi College from 1985 to 1987. He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and Titular Bishop of Scala, and was ordained a bishop on 21 May 1987. Cardinal Pell served as President of Caritas Australia from 1988 to 1997. In 1989 he was appointed Chairman of the Committee tasked with the institution of a new Australian Catholic University, and from 1991 to 1995, he served as its Foundation Pro-Chancellor.
Between 1990 and 2000, the Cardinal served as Member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, a position that was renewed in 2002. For many years, he also served as part of the Pontifical Council for the Family. Cardinal Pell was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Melbourne on 16 July 1996 and Metropolitan Archbishop of Sydney on 26 March 2001. In April 2002, he was appointed President of the “Vox Clara” committee for the English translation of liturgical texts. He was created a Cardinal in 21 October 2003 and participated in the 19 April 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict xvi . On 3 February 2007, Pell was appointed Member of the Council of Cardinals for the study of organizational and economic problems of the Holy See and on 22 September 2012, Member of the Congregation for Bishops. The following year he participated in the conclave that elected Pope Francis.
He was appointed Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy on 24 February 2014, the same year he was appointed Member of of the Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
After returning to Rome following his trial and imprisonment, Cardinal Pell was received by the Pope in the Apostolic Palace on 12 October 2021. On that occasion, Pope Francis thanked Pell for his “witness”. In an interview with Italian media shortly before Christmas, the Pontiff had recalled the work the Cardinal had carried out in the economic sphere, pointing out that it had been Pell who had drawn up “the framework of how things could move forward”, and describing him as a “great man”.
Cardinal Pell’s funeral will take place on Saturday, 14 January, in Saint Peter’s Basilica.