Catholic Bishops praise Cardinal Pell’s ‘strong and clear leadership’

12 Jan 2023

By Contributor

By Adam Wesselinoff, The Catholic Weekly, and Jamie O’Brien, The Record

Cardinal George Pell, then Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, poses outside his office in St John’s Tower overlooking St Peter’s Basilica 5 August 2014. Photo: CNS /Robert Duncan.

Australia’s Catholic Bishops have mourned the passing of Cardinal George Pell, who died in Rome age 81 after suffering a heart attack, brought on by complications from hip replacement surgery.

Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli said it was great sadness that he learned that Cardinal George Pell, the seventh Archbishop of Melbourne, died overnight from heart complications following hip surgery in Rome, Italy.

“Cardinal Pell was a very significant and influential Church leader, both in Australia and internationally, deeply committed to Christian discipleship,” Archbishop Comensoli said.

“Cardinal Pell led the local Church of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001 with strong leadership in the Catholic faith and with good governance, before being transferred to Sydney and then to Rome,” he said.

Cardinal George Pell pours oil as he dedicates the altar of St Peter Chanel Chapel at Domus Australia in Rome 16 October 2011. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring.

Archbishop Comensoli continued by saying that at this immediate moment, 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 eternal life.

“Our prayers of comfort and condolence are also with his family, especially his only surviving sibling David Pell,” Archbishop Comensoli concluded.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher paid tribute to his departed predecessor Cardinal George Pell, describing him as “without doubt Australia’s most prominent ever churchman”.

In comments and a homily given during Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on 11 January, Archbishop Fisher said he was shocked to wake to the “deeply saddening” news that Cardinal Pell had died from a heart attack in Rome, suffered due to complications following hip surgery.

Cardinal George Pell accepts and drinks a bowl of kava, a traditional Fijian drink, during the 7 – 11 August 2006 meeting of Oceania’s Catholic bishops in Suva, Fiji. Photo: CNS/Father Philip Gibbs, SVD.

“For me, it was very consoling that I got to meet him several times last week when I was in Rome for Pope Benedict’s funeral,” Archbishop Fisher said.

“He was, without doubt, Australia’s most prominent ever churchman, having provided strong and clear leadership within the Catholic Church in Australia, as Archbishop of Melbourne and Archbishop of Sydney.”

“As a member of the Bishops Conference for more than 25 years, 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.”

Archbishop Fisher noted that Cardinal Pell served under three Popes, was one of the Holy Father’s inner circle of Cardinal-advisors, and served in the “number three” position, as Prefect of the Economy.

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney points out a feature of the Domus Australia chapel during its dedication in Rome, 19 October 2011. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring.

In his homily, Archbishop Fisher spoke of the privilege of knowing the Cardinal’s “big heart”, which had given out, but for more than 80 years “served him well, so he could think big, choose big, act big, for the Church in Australia”.

“I’ve known him for 30 years and more and grew close to him for preparations for World Youth Day.

“To take on something that big for a small country like Australia, with a smallish Catholic population, was something only someone of great love and courage could do, and it turned out to be a huge blessing for this land.

Archbishop Fisher also paid tribute to Cardinal Pell’s faithfulness as a pastor and “most courageous faith in Christ, His Church”.

“In the face of trial and tribulation, his faith in God never wavered,” he said.

Young people celebrate with Cardinal George Pell during a 500-day countdown to World Youth Day 2008 outside St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, Australia, 2 March 2008. Photo: CNS /Damir Govorcin, Catholic Weekly Sydney.

Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, previously an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney, said he also felt “great personal sadness and shock” upon hearing of the sudden death of His Eminence.

“As a former auxiliary bishop in Sydney I worked closely with Cardinal Pell for 10 years. During this time I came to know a man of deep personal faith with a profound love for the Church,” Archbishop Porteous said.

“He was a champion of Catholic teaching and the advancement of the mission of the Church, not only in Sydney but worldwide.

“During my time with him I came to know his deep warmth and humanity. He was to suffer greatly for his strong stand on many issues and experienced, no doubt, much personal pain during his time of trial and imprisonment, especially due to the level of public vilification.

“He was unbowed by this experience and in his final years spent mainly in Rome continued to contribute to the mission of the Church.

“Along with so many who admired him and loved him, I pray for the repose of his soul and commend him to the Lord, whom he served with unstinting devotion. Requiescat in Pace.”

Cardinal George Pell kisses the hand of now St John Paul II as he receives the document designating his new title during the consistory in St Peter’s Square 21 October 2003. Photo: CNS/Reuters.

Other heads of Catholic institutions paid tribute to the Cardinal, including Australian Catholic University Chancellor, the Hon Martin Daubney AM KC, and Vice-Chancellor Professor Zlatko Skrbis.

In a statement, ACU praised His Eminence’s contribution to Catholic education in more than 20 significant leadership positions, including President of the ACU Corporation and Co-Founder of the Sydney campuses of the University of Notre Dame, Australia.

Mr Daubney said that Cardinal Pell was a central figure in the formation and foundation of ACU.

“From the time of its inception, Cardinal Pell maintained a deep and abiding interest in ACU. The Church and its institutions in Australia and abroad are indebted to Cardinal Pell for his leadership and contribution to our community.

“His death will be felt by many in the Australian church and the wider community. We join with all people of faith in praying for the repose of his soul.”

Professor Skrbis said that Cardinal Pell was “extraordinarily generous in lending his expertise to ACU”.

“I regularly had the benefit of his advice, which was always thoughtful and always greatly valued.”

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, talks at a World Youth Day preview event in Sydney 4 July 2008. Photo: CNS/Tim Wimborne, Reuters.