The death of Australian Cardinal George Pell was a shock because just five days earlier he had concelebrated the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI and “seemed in good health,” said Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals.
In his homily at Cardinal Pell’s funeral Mass on 14 January in St Peter’s Basilica, Cardinal Re described the Australian prelate as often being “a strong-willed and decisive protagonist” with “a strong temperament that, at times, could appear harsh.”
Cardinal Pell died of a heart attack on 10 January at a Rome hospital after undergoing hip surgery. he was 81. He will buried at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, where he had served as archbishop before Pope Francis chose him as prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy.
The pope, who had praised the cardinal for keeping his faith “with perseverance even in the hour of trial,” arrived in St Peter’s Basilica at the end of the Mass to preside over the final rite of commendation, as he usually does for cardinals who die in Rome.
“The last years of his life were marked by an unjust and painful condemnation,” Cardinal Re said, referring to Cardinal Pell’s conviction on charges of sexual abuse and his 404 days in jail before the Australian high court overturned the conviction.
Cardinal Re told mourners at the funeral that the court “exonerated him with a sentence of full innocence, and he was finally able to leave prison.”
Cardinal Pell’s trust in God amid such suffering, Cardinal Re said, is an example of “how to accept even unjust punishments with dignity and inner peace.”
The cardinal’s three-volume “Prison Journal” made clear “how much faith and prayer” helped him, and the books could help others who “suffer unjustly,” Cardinal Re said.
“A man of God and a man of the church, he was characterised by a deep faith and great firmness of doctrine, which he always defended without hesitation and with courage, concerned only with being faithful to Christ,” Cardinal Re said. “As he repeatedly pointed out, the weakening of faith in the Western world and the moral crisis of the family grieved him.”
Soon after the cardinal’s death, the Italian blogger Sandro Magister, claimed Cardinal Pell was the author of a “A Memorandum on the Next Conclave,” which Magister published on his blog in March under the pseudonym “Demos.” The author of the memo begins by saying, “this pontificate is a disaster in many or most respects; a catastrophe.”
Also after Cardinal Pell’s death, the British magazine The Spectator published an article by the cardinal criticising the current process for the Synod of Bishops as “a toxic nightmare” and describing the working document for the synod’s continental stage as an “outpouring of New Age good will.”
Cardinal Re ended his homily saying, “To God, who is good and rich in mercy, we entrust this brother of ours, praying that God may welcome him into the peace and intimacy of his love.”