Cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranking Catholic official to be convicted of child sex abuse before his 2020 acquittal, has died, according to his secretary. He was 81 years old.
Father Joseph Hamilton confirmed Pell’s death Tuesday evening local time after being admitted to a Rome hospital for hip replacement surgery. Hamilton said that although the operation was successful, Pell later suffered 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 within the Church.
He held the post from 2014 to 2019 in charge of Pope Francis’ financial reforms, which largely stalled when he was recalled to Australia to face historic sex abuse allegations.
He was convicted of the charges in 2018 and served 13 months in prison before the Australian High Court acquitted him in April 2020. Pell has strongly denied the charges, which he dismissed in an interview with the police in 2016 as a “product of fantasy”.
In its two-page summary of the decision, the High Court said the jury “should have had a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt” and ordered the convictions quashed.
In a statement, the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher expressed his sadness at Pell’s death. “This news is a big shock for all of us. Please pray for the repose of Cardinal Pell’s soul, for comfort and consolation for his family and for all who loved and mourn him at this time,” he said in a Facebook post.