Cardinal George Pell, convicted then acquitted of child sex abuse, dies at 81

Cardinal George Pell, a conservative theologian who served as Pope Francis’ Vatican finance chief and was exonerated after becoming the oldest Catholic cleric to be convicted of child sexual abuse, died on Tuesday in Rome . He was 81 years old.

His death was confirmed by Peter Comensoli, one of his successors as Archbishop of Melbourne, who said the cardinal died of heart complications after undergoing hip surgery. Cardinal Pell had been in Rome to attend the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI last week.

Cardinal Pell spent more than a year in solitary confinement in his native Australia after a jury found him guilty in 2018 of assaulting two teenagers in Melbourne Cathedral while he was the city’s archbishop in the 1990s. His conviction was overturned by an Australian high court in 2020.

The cardinal remained a polarizing figure in Australia and the church even after his acquittal. For his detractors, he was a symbol of the abuse crisis. To his supporters, he was a scapegoat who had been targeted by the church’s enemies.

The funeral of Pope Benedict XVI a mixture of old rituals and new precedents

Cardinal Pell, who also served as Archbishop of Sydney, created one of the world’s first programs to compensate victims of child sexual abuse. But critics say he presided over a culture of secrecy, using the program, which forced victims to waive their right to civil legal action, to silence them.

A high-level Australian inquiry, known as the Royal Commission, began looking into child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and other institutions in 2013. It found the cardinal was aware that clergy were abusing children in the 1970s , but did not take sufficient steps to address it.

Also Read :  Chinese state TV obscures maskless crowd in World Cup broadcast

The cardinal told the inquiry in 2016 that he did not know whether the crimes of Gerald Ridsdale, a priest who was moved from parish to parish by the church in the 1970s and 1980s and later convicted of dozens of allegations of abuse children’s sex common knowledge

“It’s a sad story and I wasn’t very interested,” Cardinal Pell told the inquiry. “The suffering, of course, was real and I am very sorry for it, but I had no reason to turn my mind on the extent of the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated.”

Cardinal Pell gave evidence to the inquest via video link from Rome after his lawyers said he was too unwell to travel to Australia. Pell suffered from hypertension, heart disease and cardiac dysfunction, and a doctor had concluded that a prolonged flight was dangerous to his health.

George Pell was born in Ballarat, a gold mining town in the Australian state of Victoria, on June 8, 1941. His father was an Anglican boxing champion and non-practicing heavyweight. His mother was devoutly Catholic.

In his youth, he played Australian rules football, and his natural athleticism and imposing frame, standing over 6 feet tall, saw him sign a contract with a major club while still a teenager. He chose to pursue a clerical career, and was ordained at St. Peter’s Basilica in 1966.

He quickly rose through the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, becoming the most powerful Australian in the history of the clergy, and an ally of Pope Benedict when he led the church, and later, Pope Francis. (Benedict made a rare visit to Australia in 2008.)

Also Read :  ‘There is a lot of pent-up demand’: world awaits return of Chinese tourists

Cardinal Pell held hard-line views on contemporary social issues, including same-sex relationships, abortion and the role of women in the clergy. He forged close ties with Australia’s conservative political establishment, including former prime minister Tony Abbott, a devout Catholic, who visited him in prison.

In a 2001 radio interview, the cardinal suggested that couples considering divorce should be offered financial incentives to stay together. In the same interview, he said there was “no way” the church would ever have priests. He once described the film “Avatar”, which at the time was the highest-grossing film in Australian history, as “old-fashioned pagan propaganda”.

In 2002, Cardinal Pell was criticized by victim support groups for his claim that “abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people”. He did not back down from the comment when questioned by the Sydney Morning Herald days later, although he claimed his original statement had been quoted out of context because it did not include his conviction of sex abuse in the church.

In contrast to his staunchly conservative stance on the church’s moral teachings, the cardinal was a financial reformer who was recruited to the Vatican by Pope Francis in 2014 and tasked with reviewing its finances. This focus on transparency, honed during his early years in Australia, saw him at loggerheads with the church bureaucracy over his attempts to audit Vatican assets and spending.

Although Cardinal Pell’s career was effective derailed when he returned to Australia in 2017 to defend himself against sexual assault allegations, one legacy of his time on the books was a spiraling Vatican corruption investigation.

Also Read :  Ukrainians cheer the new year as Russian drones are blasted from the skies

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

In the 2018 sexual assault At the trial, the prosecution relied on the evidence of a former chorus girl, who was then 30 years old and had a young family. She reported the alleged abuse to police in 2015, after another former showgirl died of a drug overdose. The other chorister did not make public accusations against Cardinal Pell. (A separate sexual abuse case was dropped by prosecutors after the trial began.)

Cardinal Pell’s accuser, whose name was not publicly released, said he respected the decision to acquit and accepted the outcome. He said it highlighted the difficulties in child sexual abuse cases to satisfy a criminal court that the offense has occurred beyond reasonable doubt.

“It’s a very high standard to meet, a heavy burden,” he said in a statement at the time. “But the price we pay for weighting the system in favor of the accused is that many sex crimes against children go unpunished.”

Australian Catholic University historian Miles Pattenden said the cardinal was a “deeply polarizing figure” and admired by a minority of Catholic Australians for his defense of traditional morality.

But many Australians saw him as “complicit in covering up the sexual abuse of children”, Pattenden said, and as a man who “was behind some of the abusive priests now convicted to a degree that was unreasonable”. .


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles

Back to top button