George Pell, a former top Vatican official and Australia’s highest-ranked Catholic figure, died yesterday in Rome from complications following surgery. Pell, who spent 13 months in jail in 2019 for child sexual abuse but maintained his innocence and was later acquitted, will be remembered most vividly for his trials, writes historian Miles Pattenden.

“All in all, Pell had an important impact on making Australia central to the church but that will be overshadowed by the accusation he didn’t do enough to stop abuse by priests and by his own court cases,” writes Pattenden, who studies the history of the papacy and the Catholic Church.

Pell’s public personality was “as a political bruiser who was simply able to sweep aside opposition, which is what allowed him to ascend the hierarchy so quickly,” writes Pattenden, noting Pell’s death may be triggering for abuse survivors more broadly.

“Many adults in the Catholic church and other institutions failed children in a lot of ways and it’s important we remember survivors of abuse and the profound effect public discussion of this case will have on them.”

Sunanda Creagh

Senior Editor

George Pell: a ‘political bruiser’ whose church legacy will be overshadowed by child abuse allegations

Miles Pattenden, Australian Catholic University

Pell, often described as a conservative Catholic, was jailed for child sexual abuse in Australia in 2019 but maintained his innocence and was acquitted the following year.

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