Archbishop of Melbourne and member of the Council of Cardinals charged by Pope Francis with reforming the Curia, the life of Cardinal George Pell – a conservative prelate who in the evening of his life publicly declared celebrating the traditional Mass every day – sums up in itself the upheavals that have been going through the Church for several decades.
It was on January 10, 2023, in Rome where he had gone to attend the funeral of the pope emeritus – to whom he dedicated his admiration – that Cardinal George Pell died at the age of 81, following a hip surgery that led to heart complications that were fatal to him.
“For many people, especially the Catholic faithful, this is a painful day and I express my condolences to all affected by this passing today,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said.
“It remains for historians to assess the impact of Cardinal Pell on the life of the Church in Australia and even beyond, but this impact is considerable and will be maintained over time,” commented Msgr. Anthony Fisher, the deceased's successor as Archbishop of Melbourne.
Considered for much of his life a “conciliar conservative” in the line of Benedict XVI, a member of the Council of Cardinals, charged by Pope Francis with the position of Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal Pell, after having laid down the premises of the investigation into alleged fraudulent investments by the Secretariat of State abroad, suddenly found himself in the dock, for alleged abuse of minors in Australia.
Although the charges seemed most incredible, the high prelate was nevertheless sentenced to six years in prison, at first and then at second instance, in a media and judicial persecution aimed at tarnishing the image of the Church.
Fortunately, the law prevailed, and the Australian cardinal, after long months spent behind bars, was finally acquitted in the third instance by the High Court of Australia, the highest court in the country, of all the charges brought against him, unanimously by the judges.
On the evening of his life, Bishop Pell confided in an elector for the next conclave: “I would like to tell the future pope that one of the most important challenges is to maintain the purity of the apostolic tradition. We are servants and defenders of the teaching of Christ and the apostles. We are not authorized to remove parts of it or depreciate it. We are not the masters of the apostolic tradition.”
Lucid about the world of tomorrow, the cardinal declared: “In a way, we are returning to what society was in the Roman Empire: a brutal society made up of slavery, violence, and infanticide where they felt no obligation to sick people.”
In one of his last interviews, granted to OSV News, the old archbishop affirmed: “I have now completely devoted myself to the Tridentine Mass which I celebrate every day." May he rest in peace.