Australia's most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, has died in Vatican City, aged 81.
The former Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne and Archbishop of Sydney, died from heart complications on Tuesday evening following hip surgery.
He was the Vatican's top finance minister before he left Rome in 2017 to stand trial in Melbourne for child sexual abuse offences.
In 2018, Cardinal Pell was convicted of molesting two teenage choirboys in the sacristy at St Patrick's Cathedral while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.
But Cardinal Pell always maintained his innocence and in 2020 his convictions were quashed in a unanimous decision by the High Court.
"Let our prayers go out to the God of Jesus Christ, whom Cardinal Pell wholeheartedly believed in and followed, that he may be welcomed into et ernal life," the archbishop said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
Cardinal Pell was born in Ballarat on June 8, 1941, the eldest child of George, a boxing champion, publican and non-practising Anglican and Margaret, a devout Catholic.
He was ordained a priest at St Peter's Basilica in 1966 and returned to his home town of Ballarat in 1973 to work as a director of the city's Aquinas campus.
He succeeded Sir Frank Little as Melbourne Archbishop in 1996 and then moved to Sydney to be the archbishop there five years later.
At that time, a man claimed Cardinal Pell sexually abused him in 1962 when he was an altar boy. Cardinal Pell denied the charge and in 2003 he became a cardinal in the Vatican.
In 2013, Cardinal Pell appeared before a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child abuse. He acknowledged his church had covered up the "foul crime" and sometimes placed priests above the law.
The following year Pope Fra ncis appointed him cardinal prefect of the Secretaria t for the Economy, which placed him as the third most powerful man in the Vatican.
After Cardinal Pell's convictions were quashed in 2020, Pope Francis tweeted, "we've been witnessing the persecution that Jesus underwent and how He was judged ferociously, even though He was innocent.
"Let us pray together today for all those persons who suffer due to an unjust sentence because someone had it in for them", the tweet continued.
Father Edward Moloney, the administrator of Ballarat's St Patrick's Cathedral, said the parish would commend his soul to God and his merciful judgment.
"We pray in thanksgiving for all the good that he did," Father Moloney told AAP.
"As with all our people who die, we remember the words of the scriptures - it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead."
It would be a very difficult day for Cardinal Pell's family and loved ones, Victorian government minister Steve Dimopoulos said.
"But also a very difficult day for survivors and victims of child sexual abuse and their families, and my thoughts are with them," Mr Dimopoulos told reporters on Wednesday.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Shine Lawyers, who are representing the father of the altar boy who alleged he was abused by Cardinal Pell, said the legal claim against the church and the cardinal's estate would continue.
The father is seeking damages, claiming he suffered nervous shock after being informed of allegations.
The news of the cardinal's death is slowly filtering through internationally, with the director of Texas San Angelo Diocese sending his prayers.
"I was graced to hear (Cardinal Pell) speak at the Sacra Liturgia Conference this summer," Father Ryan Rojo tweeted on Wednesday morning.
"A true inspiration without an ounce of bitterness, despite his having every reason to lean into anger."
Australian Associated Press
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