Former archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne and prefect of the Vatican dicastery for the economy died suddenly in Rome at the age of 81. He had spent more than 400 days in prison for defamatory accusations of pedophilia later ruled unfounded by the Australian Supreme Court. The memory of the archbishop of Mumbai: “In September in India he spoke to us again on the importance of the family to revitalize the Christian life. He looked to the future, not to the past”.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – In these hours, many Catholic Churches in Asia remember with emotion the figure of Australian cardinal George Pell, prefect emeritus of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, who died yesterday evening in Rome at the age of 81. The cardinal passed away due to the complications of an operation for a hip prosthesis, after having attended the funeral of Benedict XVI in recent days. From 2001 to 2014, card. Pell had been Archbishop of Sydney; first auxiliary bishop and then archbishop of Melbourne, as well as president of Caritas Australia. In all these roles he had had the opportunity to show his attentive gaze also at the journey of the peoples of Asia.
Called by Pope Francis to Rome with the difficult task of reforming the Secretariat for the Economy, his work had been forcibly interrupted by the defamatory accusations of pedophilia dating back to the time when he was parish priest in his hometown of Ballarat. Him accusations against which he had defended himself by leaving his Vatican office to return to his homeland and proclaim his innocence in court. In 2018, however, he was convicted by the District Court of the State of Victoria which sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment. And only after having already served more than 400 days of detention did the Australian Supreme Court in April 2020 exonerate him by unanimously deciding on his release. A sad story that card. Pell recalled in a memoir titled “Captivity Diary.” Pope Francis had publicly thanked him for his testimony.
“The mark left by card. Pell on the life of the Church in Australia and in the world will continue to be heard for many years”, wrote in a note mgr. Timothy Costelloe, president of the Australian Bishops’ Conference. From Mumbai, card. Oswald Gracias, who had had the opportunity to work with him for a long time in the Council of Cardinals and – before that – in the Vox Clara commission, chaired by Pell, which between 2000 and 2002 produced the most recent English translation of the Missal. “He was a good friend, a man capable of vision and devoted to his people-he comments to AsiaNews the card. Thank you -. Knowing him, I was immediately convinced that the accusations against him were false”.
Card. Pell was last in Mumbai last September for a meeting on the future of family and marriage in Asia promoted by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. “It was he who proposed Mumbai as a venue – recalls Gracias – and I was very happy about it. In his theology and spirituality Pell was faithful to tradition, he always went to the roots. On that occasion too he insisted on this to show how important the family was in revitalizing Christian life”.
“He was a man who didn’t let himself be discouraged by trials – adds the archbishop of Mumbai -. On that occasion he did not speak of his problems, but of the future of the Church. A man of God, of deep faith, a man without resentment, a very determined man. He wanted to overcome the past and look forward. He impressed me a lot”.