Cardinal George Pell mourned by Australian Catholic leaders

Australian Catholic leaders have expressed their grief following the death of Cardinal George Pell at age 81 due to complications during hip surgery.

Cardinal Pell suffered a cardiac arrest and died in Rome on Tuesday evening at 8:50 pm (Rome time).

“The Catholic Church in Australia has known few more extraordinary figures than George Pell,” said Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge in a lengthy vale.

Coleridge acknowledged that Pell “was always a polarising figure, stirring strongly contrasting reactions. He had both passionate friends and passionate foes.”

However, he defended Pell’s innocence in regard to child sex abuse, saying, “Pell became the victim of an outrageous injustice as he was convicted and jailed for 13 months before a final vindication. The spiritual poise and strength he showed through all of this was extraordinary. It revealed a depth to George Pell that often went unrecognised.”

“It will take time to assess his legacy in the Church in Australia, which will prove as complex, even as contradictory as the man himself.” – Archbishop Mark Coleridge

Coleridge continued, “Through his legal troubles, he was identified wholly with the Catholic Church and vice versa. Pell was the Church and the Church was Pell – big, powerful and heartless in the eyes of many. Partly this was because, in his public persona in Australia, Pell had presented himself self-consciously as the voice of the Catholic Church. Those who didn’t know him thought Pell heartless and humourless, and his media persona could suggest this. Yet if George Pell had anything they were a good heart and a sense of humour. It was a pity that more of this didn’t show in his media appearances.

“He didn’t claim to be a saint; he knew he was flawed. But he did claim – and rightly – to be a man of faith and a man of the Church.”

Pell had “unusual gifts of leadership”, said Coleridge, “intelligence, courage, conviction, self-confidence, political nous and tenacity among them. Though he chose a life in the Church, George Pell would have been a leader in any field he had chosen.

“It will take time to assess his legacy in the Church in Australia, which will prove as complex, even as contradictory as the man himself. For now we give thanks for the gifts George Pell brought to us and the challenges he posed. And we pray that, beyond all the struggles and sorrows he knew, this extraordinary man of faith and of the Church, our brother George, will come now before the Lord of mercy who will say to him simply (as Julian of Norwich predicts for each of us), ‘Thanks for all you’ve done.'”

“Cardinal Pell’s impact on the life of the Church in Australia and around the world will continue to be felt for many years.” – Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, released this statement:

“It was with great sadness that I learned of the unexpected death of Cardinal George Pell in Rome on Tuesday evening (Rome time). Cardinal Pell provided strong and clear leadership within the Catholic Church in Australia, as Archbishop of Melbourne and Archbishop of Sydney and as a member of the Bishops Conference for more than 25 years.

“His many strengths were widely recognised, both in Australia and around the world, as his Vatican appointments as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and as a member of the Council of Cardinals, an advisory group to Pope Francis, testify.

“Cardinal Pell’s impact on the life of the Church in Australia and around the world will continue to be felt for many years. As we remember him and reflect on his legacy, I invite all Catholics and other people of goodwill to join in praying for Cardinal Pell, a man of deep and abiding faith, and for the repose of his soul.”

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, who replaced Cardinal Pell as Catholic Archbishop of Sydney in 2014, asked people to pray for “the repose of the soul of Cardinal Pell, for comfort and consolation for his family and for all of those who loved him and are grieving him at this time.”

Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter A Comensoli expressed his grief on Twitter:

Pell’s death has provoked a very different response in other corners of the Internet. Cardinal Pell became a highly controversial figure after being convicted on five counts of sexual abuse in December 2018. Pell denied the charges.

After spending 13 months in prison, he was acquitted of all charges and was freed in April 2020, after the High Court ruled the evidence used to convict Pell “did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof”.

During his 57 years of official service to the Catholic Church – since his ordination in 1966 – George Pell rose to become Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic cleric, as Advisor to the Pope on the Vatican’s finances.

Born in Ballarat, Pell spent his early years working in Catholic education institutions. From 1988-1997 he was Chairman of Catholic aid and development organisation, Caritas Australia.

In 1996 Pell was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne and in 2001 he became Archbishop of Sydney.

He was made a member of the Council of Cardinals in 2013, which was established to advise Pope Francis.

Then, in 2014, Pell was appointed to the powerful position of Prefect of the new Secretariat for the Economy of the Holy See and the Vatican City State.

Pell participated in the conclave of April 2005, which elected Pope Benedict XVI and in the conclave of March 2013, which elected Pope Francis.

One of the final interviews Cardinal Pell gave was his reaction to the death of Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on 31 December 2022. He said: “I was very sad … I admired what he was about. I thought he was very good for the Church and so it was sad to see another wonderful stage in Church history ending.”