Cardinal George Pell dies at 81 in Rome after hip surgery

George Pell dies aged 81: Most senior Australian to ever serve the Catholic Church was chatting with doctors after hip operation in Rome when he went into sudden cardiac arrest

  • Cardinal George Pell has died in Rome after undergoing hip surgery
  • He reportedly had undergone the operation and was taking to doctors
  • The 81-year-old the had sudden heart attack and could not be revived
  • His latter life had been plagued by allegations of sex abuse claims 

Cardinal George Pell has died in Rome at the age of 81 after complications from hip replacement surgery, the Vatican has confirmed. 

The Cardinal is reported to have successfully undergone the operation and was chatting with the anaesthetist when he went into sudden cardiac arrest.

Medics were unable to revive him.

He was ordained a priest in 1966, became a bishop in 1987, and was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and Archbishop of Sydney in 2001 before was made a cardinal in 2003.

But Cardinal Pell was at the centre of sex abuse allegations for almost two decades and in 2018 he was convicted of historical incidents which he strenuously denied.

Cardinal George Pell has died in Rome at the age of 81 after complications from hip replacement surgery, the Vatican has confirmed

He served 404 days in prison before the conviction was overturned on appeal by the High Court of Australia in 2020.

Prior to the court case he was one of the highest ranked cardinals in the Vatican after he impressed with his handling of historical allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

As Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, he established the Melbourne response to handle and investigate child sex abuse complaints which was hailed as a world-first.

In 2013 he was appointed as a member of the Council of Cardinals by Pope Francis and overhauled the Church’s finances as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.

Cardinal George Pell was at the centre of sex abuse allegations for almost two decades and in 2018 he was convicted of historical incidents which he strenuously denied

However Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that he knew of child sexual abuse by clergy by the 1970s but did not take adequate action to address it. 

Pell said at the time he was ‘surprised’ by the findings and insisted the commission’s views were ‘not supported by evidence’.

More to follow 



– Pell appointed Archbishop of Melbourne by Pope John Paul II

– Pell was alleged to have sexually abused two 13-year-old choirboys after a Sunday solemn mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral

– A second indecent act was allegedly committed by Pell against one of the choirboys in a corridor at the Cathedral.


– The Herald Sun reports Pell is being investigated by Victoria Police’s Sano taskforce for ‘multiple offences’ committed while he was a priest in Ballarat and Archbishop of Melbourne

– Pell says the allegations are ‘without foundation and utterly false’ and calls for an inquiry into how the police investigation became public

– Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton asks the anti-corruption watchdog to investigate the leak, but denies it came from police

Cardinal George Pell, 77, is known as the Vatican’s treasurer and had been granted a leave of absence while facing trial over child sex offences in Australia. He has surrendered his passport

– Pell gives evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s inquiry into abuse in Ballarat

– Under Vatican rules, Pell gives Pope Francis his resignation on his 75th birthday, as is customary. It is not accepted

– Victoria Police investigators hand over to the state’s Office of Public Prosecutions a brief of evidence on allegations of sexual abuse by Pell

– Officers travel to Rome to interview Pell over the abuse claims. He voluntarily participates in the interview.


– Police present their final brief of evidence to the Office of Public Prosecutions to consider charges

– Prosecutors give police the green light to charge Pell.

JUNE 2017

– Pell is charged with multiple counts of historic child sex offences

– He denies the charges and vows to clear his name

– Lawyers for Pell appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court

– Pell takes leave from his Vatican finance chief role to fight the charges.

JULY 2017

– Pell returns to Australia

– He hires top barrister Robert Richter QC

– Supporters set up a fund to help Pell fight the charges.

MARCH 2018

– Prosecutors drop one of the charges against Pell

– A month-long committal hearing begins to determine if Pell will face trial

– Prosecutors withdraw more charges

– Mr Richter claims police conducted a ‘get Pell operation’ and accuses magistrate Belinda Wallington of bias. She refuses to disqualify herself from the case.

MAY 2018

– Magistrate Belinda Wallington orders Pell stand trial on some charges, but throws out others

– Pell formally pleads ‘not guilty’

– Two trials are ordered, separating the 1970s and 1990s allegations

– A Victorian County Court employee is sacked for looking up information on the Pell case.


– The 1990s ‘cathedral trial’ begins in the Victorian County Court in Melbourne

– Pell pleads not guilty again to one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four of indecent acts with a child, over incidents involving two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.


– The jury is discharged, unable to reach a verdict following a week of deliberation. Some jurors weep.


– A retrial begins. The jury aren’t told of the previous hung jury.


– Pell is found guilty on all charges by an unanimous jury

– Mr Richter says Pell will appeal

– Suppression orders prevent Australian media reporting the verdict but it spreads through international media within hours.


– Hearings begin ahead of the second trial. Prosecutors drop another charge

– An appeal is filed against the cathedral trial conviction

– A County Court judge deems vital evidence inadmissible

– Prosecutors withdraw all remaining charges against Pell and drop a second trial over allegations Pell indecently assaulted boys in Ballarat in the 1970s when he was a parish priest

– Pell is due to be taken into custody on Wednesday February 27 as the plea hearing begins.

MARCH 2019

– Pell sentenced to six years in jail with a non-parole period of three years and eight months by County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd.

APRIL 2020

– Conviction is quashed on appeal by High Court of Australia. The court said that ‘there is a significant possibility … that an innocent person has been convicted.’

Australian Associated Press 


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