George Cardinal Pell (1941-2023)
George Cardinal Pell (1941-2023) died in Rome. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
Cardinal Pell is known to most Australians because he was found guilty of various sexual offences in 2018. However, the High Court of Australia quashed these convictions in 2020. The decision was unanimous – 7-0.
The Cardinal was the first – and probably the last – man to be both Archbishop of Melbourne (1996) and Sydney (2001). In addition, he was appointed by the pope to be the inaugural prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy (2014-2019).
I visited Pell in gaol with Kevin Andrews just before the High Court decision. We had rehearsed some topics for discussion in case the conversation faltered.
No need. George – as he liked to be called – launched into a 20-minute tirade against Vatican finances. He never shirked from facing issues with competence and courage.
I was surprised when Pell asked me to head up the training of future priests in Sydney. Not from Melbourne or Sydney; I didn’t know him at all. I remained in the job for six years and got to know the Cardinal well.
My first encounter with him was in his office in Sydney. I asked, ‘Whether I was the second or third pick?’ He quipped, ‘O about the ninth.’
I worked closely with a terrific team of formators in the seminary – both women and men – including Cardinal Pell, in furthering reforms at the seminary. George backed every reform we put forward.
One afternoon he called me at the seminary. He said he was on speakerphone and queried whether I could hear him. I said yes, ‘But you sound somewhat distant – but not for the first time.’ He retorted, ‘And you are coming through loud and clear – and not for the first time either.’
George loved the banter. He loved people and loved engaging in the public square. This latter love made him friends and foes.
If Queen Elizabeth II is remembered for her devotion to duty, then George Cardinal Pell will be known for his stoicism.
I was amazed at his good humour on that day in prison. His prison diaries arouse similar sentiments.
Whether you consider him friend or foe – and I fall into the former – the trial of George Pell and the subsequent High Court decision has left a legacy for every Australian.
Geoffrey Robertson, no friend of Pell, noted after the High Court decision that a ‘secret trial is no trial.’
Good mate Frank Brennan – that ‘meddling Jesuit priest’ – has documented the absurdity of the charges against Pell and their journey through the justice and court system.
The rule of law is fundamental to free and fair societies.
George Cardinal Pell’s final foray into the Public Square has benefited us all.
Well said, Fr Percy. In my very limited experience of two meetings and a few exchanges of correspondence with Cardinal Pell I found him to be warm, thoughtful, very considered and encouraging. He was well read, informed, aware of the challenges facing the Church, and fearless in stating his position. It was a scandal and a disgrace to the state of Victoria that nonsensical and impossible charges were laid against him, thankfully emphatically rejected and quashed by the High Court.