CNA—Cardinal George Pell, prefect emeritus of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, died on Tuesday at the age of 81.
The Australian prelate suffered a cardiac arrest and died at 8:50 p.m. Rome time, his secretary confirmed.
A towering figure of the Church both physically and intellectually, Pell served for many years as archbishop of Melbourne and then Sydney before Pope Francis appointed him to lead the Vatican’s economy department in 2014.
He recently remembered Pope Benedict XVI during an EWTN News In Depth Interview shortly after the late pope’s death.
Asked about his reaction to the news on Dec. 31, the cardinal said: “I was very sad” since “I had known him well enough, I admired what he was about, I thought he was very good for the Church and so it was sad to see another wonderful phase in Church history ending.”
Born in Ballarat, Australia
Pell was ordained a priest for the diocese in 1966. He was made an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne in 1987, and nine years later he was named archbishop of Melbourne.
In 2001 he was appointed archbishop of Sydney, where he served until being appointed by Pope Francis to take charge of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy and to lead efforts at reforming Vatican financial affairs in 2014.
The Australian was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in October 2003, while he was archbishop of Sydney. Ten years later, Pope Francis appointed Pell a member of his Council of Cardinals, and the year after, he put him in charge of Vatican finances.
In 2017, Pell left Rome for Australia to defend his innocence of abuse charges. After 404 days in prison he was ultimately acquitted in a 7-0 vote by the country’s Supreme Court in 2020. He returned to live in Rome on Sept. 30, 2020, his first visit back to the city since his trial and imprisonment.
Cardinal Pell’s three-book prison journal, written while he was in solitary confinement, has been highly praised by many and offers a first-hand, real-world, candid and open journey to hope and faith—and forgiveness of those who without doubt, shamelessly and purposefully falsely accused him—even amid very real interior and exterior humiliations and sufferings. During his time in jail he was not allowed to offer Mass, in part because he was not allowed access to wine for use in the consecration.
In 2021, Pell turned 80 years old, losing his eligibility to vote in a future papal conclave.
Profound devotion to the Eucharist and the Mass
On May 13, 2021, Pell led a eucharistic procession at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, also known as the Angelicum, in Rome, where he explained that during his 13 months in jail, he was “unable to celebrate Mass and attend Mass.”
“I listened to many Protestant preachers, and I became even more aware of the centrality of the liturgical celebration. It’s a making present of Christ’s sacrifice. It’s an explicit act of adoration. It involves the whole of our persons. It needs faith to be practiced,” he said.