George Pell was born on 8 June 1941 in Ballarat and grew up in the western Victorian city, where he attended the Loreto and St Patrick’s colleges. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, has been appointed by Pope Francis as the Prefect for the Economy of the Holy See. Cardinal George Pell has a long list of achievements in the Catholic Church and in Australian society – feted by popes, prime ministers and the Queen of England. He rose from those humble beginnings in Australia to become one of Pope Francis’ top advisers, equally admired and feared in gilded Vatican halls for his forthright manner.
As the son of an Anglican father and a devout Irish Catholic mother, the young Pell helped run his family hotel and pub, the Cattle Yards Inn and Royal Oak, where he served beer to tough-talking Aussies in a gold-mining town.
Despite the illness, he excelled in sports and academics at St. Patrick’s College and in 1959, his last year of high school, signed a professional contract with the Richmond Football Club before eventually deciding to attend seminary instead. “George always did very well at school. He was always a standout figure, partly because of his size. He was very popular,” the Rev. Michael Mason, a former schoolmate and friend of more than 50 years, told Australian news site theage.com in 2003.
Over the next 20 years he was heavily involved in Catholic Church organisations, including the Catholic education sector. He was a founding member of the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria in the 1970s and was principal of the Institute of Catholic Education (now part of the Australian Catholic University). Cardinal Pell also took on the position of chairman at the church’s international aid agency Caritas Australia in 1988 and continued in the role until 1997.
George Pell Full Biography and Profile
Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney (Australia), was born on 8 June 1941 in Ballarat, Australia. He was ordained on 16 December 1966 and holds a licentiate in theology from the Urbaniana University of Rome, a master’s degree in education from Monash University and a doctorate of philosophy in Church History from the University of Oxford. Cardinal Pell served as Director of the Aquinas Campus of the Institute of Catholic Education (1974-84) and Principal of the Institute of Catholic Education (1981-1984). He was Episcopal Vicar for Education in the Diocese of Ballarat and a founding member of the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria.
On 30 March 1987 he was elected titular Bishop of Scala and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, and received episcopal ordination on 21 May 1987.
From 1988-1997 he was Chairman of Caritas Australia. During that same period, he was member of the National Catholic Commission and from 1994-1997 he was Secretary to the Bishops’ Committee for Education. In 1989, Cardinal Pell was appointed Chairman of the committee charged with setting up the new Australian Catholic University, and in 1991-1995 he served as pro-chancellor of the University’s Foundation. From 1985-1987 he was Rector of Corpus Christi College, the Provincial Seminary for Victoria and Tasmania. In 1990, he attended the Synod of Bishops in Rome on the preparation of priests, where he served as one of the Synod spokesmen and on the committee which prepared the final Synod message. He was appointed Apostolic Visitor to the National seminaries of New Zealand (1994), Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands (1995), the Pacific (1996) and Irian Jaya and Sulawesi (1998) by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in the Vatican.
On 16 July 1996, Pope John Paul II appointed him Metropolitan Archbishop of Melbourne. He was installed as Archbishop on 16 August 1996 in a ceremony at the Exhibition Buildings, and received the Pallium from the Pope at St. Peter’s in Rome on the feast of Sts Peter and Paul, 29 June 1997.
In November 1998, Cardinal Pell attended the Synod for Oceania. He was appointed by Pope John Paul II to represent the Bishops of Australia and Oceania at the Special Synod for European Bishops in 1999 and the Synod of Bishops held in 2001.
In April 2002, he was named President of the Vox Clara committee for the English translations of liturgical texts.
On 26 March 2001, the Holy Father appointed Cardinal Pell the eighth Metropolitan Archbishop of Sydney. He was installed as Archbishop at St. Mary’s Cathedral of 10 May 2001, and the following month received the Pallium for the second time at St. Peter’s in Rome on the feast of Sts Peter and Paul. On 9 September 2008 he was appointed President Delegate of the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” (5-26 October 2008). [substituting for Cardinal Oswald Gracias]
On 13 April 2013 he was made a member of the group of cardinals established to advise Pope Francis in the government of the universal Church and to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia,‘Pastor Bonus’.
Created and proclaimed Cardinal by the Bl. John Paul II in the consistory of 21 October 2003, of the Title of S. Maria Domenica Mazzarello (St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello).
- Congregations: for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; for Bishops;
- Pontifical Councils: for Family; for Justice and Peace; for Promoting New Evangelization; for Health Pastoral Care;
- Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organizational and Economic Affairs of the Holy See;
- XIII Ordinary Council of the Secretariat General of the Synod of Bishops;
- Committee Vox Clara (President)
Same-Sex Marriage, Abortion and Contraception
As Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic official, Pell has been outspoken about his views against same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception.
“We shall have to struggle peacefully and democratically and cooperatively to ensure that our hospitals cannot be forced to offer abortion and euthanasia,” he told the Fota VIII International Liturgy Conference in Cork, Ireland, in 2015.
At that same conference, Pell said that Western society is abandoning many of its Christian legal foundations by passing same-sex marriage laws.
The Australian government awarded him the Centenary Medal for his service to the Australian community in 2003.
In 2005, Pell was made Companion of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, “for service to the Catholic Church in Australia and internationally, to raising debate on matters of an ethical and spiritual nature, to education, and to social justice.”
After the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, Cardinal Pell travelled to Rome as the only Australian member of the Catholic Church with the right to vote for the new pope.
When Pope Benedict XVI was elected, Cardinal Pell said he believed the new Pope’s approach had the potential to increase church attendance in the West.
In 2013, Pope Benedict XVI made a surprise announcement that he would resign from his position. At the time of the resignation Cardinal Pell was critical of the Vatican’s governance.
“I think the governance is done by people around the Pope and that wasn’t always done brilliantly,” he said at the time.
“I’m not breaking any ground there, this is said very commonly.”
After the appointment of Pope Francis, Cardinal Pell was one of seven selected to advise the Pope on church reforms, aimed at making changes to the Curia which had been blamed for many of the scandals plaguing the church.
At the time Cardinal Pell welcomed the opportunity to offer different perspectives to the Curia.
“Most of the people who work in the Curia are fine people. There were one or two mishaps,” he said.
“Quite a few Italians work in the Curia. The chairman of this group is an Italian, Cardinal Bertelo.
“But I think different perspectives will be useful and I think a few English-speaking perspectives won’t hurt.”
That appointment paved the way for Cardinal Pell to take on a higher position in the church, culminating in his new appointment as Prefect for the Economy of the Holy See.
In the role, Cardinal Pell will be responsible for preparing the Vatican’s annual budget, as well as financial planning and enhanced internal controls.
The Cardinal will report directly to the Pope, putting his role on a similar level to that of the Vatican’s Secretary of State. While Cardinal Pell will not be directly in charge of the troubled Vatican Bank, he will be responsible for overseeing the efficiency of the Holy See’s internal operations, a role similar to that of a finance minister.
Cardinal Pell will leave his role as the Archbishop of Sydney in order to take up his new position.
Cardinal Pell and controversy
Cardinal George Pell has been found guilty in Australia of sexual offences against children, making him the highest-ranking Catholic figure to receive such a conviction. Pell abused two choir boys in Melbourne’s cathedral in 1996, a jury found. He had pleaded not guilty.
As Vatican treasurer, the 77-year-old Australian was widely seen as the Church’s third most powerful official. Pell, due to face sentencing hearings from Wednesday, has lodged an appeal.
His trial was heard twice last year because a first jury failed to reach a verdict. A second jury unanimously convicted him of one charge of sexually penetrating a child under 16, and four counts of committing an indecent act on a child under 16.
The verdict was handed down in December, but it could not be reported until now for legal reasons.
The Vatican later confirmed that Pell was prohibited from public ministry, and had been banned from having contact with minors. He has to abide by these rules until any appeal is over.
They added that while the ruling was “painful”, and the Church has the “utmost respect” for the Australian authorities, Pell has the right to “defend himself to the last degree”.
The Catholic Church worldwide has in recent years faced a damaging series of allegations relating to sex abuse by priests, and claims that these cases were covered up.
Pope Francis has just held an unprecedented summit on paedophilia in the Church.
While denying any personal responsibility for cover-up of sexual abuse, Pell acknowledged, “The church … in Australia has mucked things up, has let people down. The church has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those.”
From the Vatican, Pell said he was “innocent of the charges.”
“The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” he said, adding that Pope Francis had been kept “regularly informed” and was granting him a leave of absence to return to Australia to defend himself.
- Cardinal George Pell Biography and Profile (Goodreadbiography / ABC / CNN / Vatican)