Home Christian News Cardinal George Pell, Conservative Force at the Vatican, Dies at 81

Cardinal George Pell, Conservative Force at the Vatican, Dies at 81

Cardinal George Pell
Cardinal George Pell at the Vatican, June 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Cardinal George Pell, who once spearheaded financial reform for Pope Francis at the Vatican, died Tuesday (Jan. 10) at the age of 81 due to complications after hip replacement surgery in Rome.

An influential conservative figure at the Vatican, he was praised for his forceful efforts to reform Vatican finances, but his life and career were marred in recent years by sexual abuse allegations.

Pope Francis, who praised Pell in the past as a “genius” for his work in restoring the notoriously corrupt Vatican finances, said in a statement Wednesday, ”I gratefully remember his coherent and committed witness, his dedication to the Gospel and the church, and especially his diligent collaboration with the Holy See in the context of the recent economic reform, for which he lay the groundwork with determination and wisdom.”

Francis also expressed his closeness to Pell’s friends and surviving relatives and asked faithful to pray for the deceased cardinal.

“Cardinal Pell was one of the giants of modern Catholicism. His death is a tremendous loss to the universal Church, which he loved passionately, served magnificently, and suffered for greatly,” wrote George Weigel, a biographer of St. John Paul II and a distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, in an email to Religion News Service.

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At the Vatican, Pell worked closely with the financial auditor Libero Milone, who mourned the loss of “a great man and a sincere friend.”

Pell became the first cardinal to be convicted of sexual abuse in 2017 and spent more than a year in prison until his conviction was overturned on appeal by the Australian high court, which cited a lack of evidence. While in jail, he wrote three books detailing his physical and spiritual experience, which he called his “prison journal.”