CARDINAL George Pell, a top Vatican clergyman who was cleared of sexual abuse of choir boys died aged 81, after undergoing surgery.
A top adviser to Pope Francis, Pell was embroiled in a sexual abuse scandal and spent over a year in solitary confinement in Australia before he was acquitted of the allegations in 2020.
Fr. Joseph Hamilton said Pell died in a Rome hospital on Tuesday night.
His successor as Archbishop of Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli said he suffered fatal heart complications following hip surgery.
Pell had been in Rome to attend the funeral last week of Pope Benedict XVI.
Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher told reporters the death had come as a shock.
He said: “It will be for historians to assess his impact on the life of the church in Australia and beyond, but it was considerable and will be long lasting.”
Fisher said a requiem for Pell would be held at St. Peters Basilica in the Vatican in the next few days, and in time his body would be brought back to Australia for a funeral mass and buried in the crypt at St. Marys Cathedral in Sydney.
Pell was cleared of charges of sexually assaulting two choir boys in the 1990s.
A Victoria state County Court jury initially convicted him of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys at St. Patricks Cathedral in the latest 1990s shortly after he had become archbishop of Melbourne.
Pell served 404 days in solitary confinement before the full bench of the High Court unanimously overturned his convictions in 2020.
During his time in prison, Pell kept a diary documenting everything from his prayers and Scripture readings to his conversations with visiting chaplains and the prison guards.
The journal turned into a triptych, Prison Journal, the proceeds of which went to pay his substantial legal bills.
In the diary, Pell reflected on the nature of suffering, Pope Francis papacy and the humiliations of solitary confinement as he battled to clear his name for a crime he insists he never committed.
“Looking back, I was probably excessively optimistic that I’d get bail,” Pell said in a 2021 interview at his home in Rome.