George Pell

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His Eminence
George Pell
Cardinal, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy
Cardinal George Pell.jpg
Appointed 24 February 2014
Predecessor Position established
Other posts
Ordination 16 December 1966
by Grégoire-Pierre Agagianian
Consecration 21 May 1987
by Frank Little
Created Cardinal 21 October 2003
by John Paul II
Rank Cardinal-Priest
Personal details
Born (1941-06-08) 8 June 1941 (age 75)
Ballarat, Australia
Denomination Roman Catholicism
Previous post
Alma mater
Motto Nolite Timere
Do not be afraid
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}
Styles of
George Pell
Coat of arms of George Pell.svg
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence or My Lord Cardinal
Informal style Cardinal

George Pell AC (born 8 June 1941) is an Australian cardinal prelate of the Catholic Church. He serves as the inaugural and current Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy since 2014.[1] He previously served as the eighth Archbishop of Sydney (2001–2014), auxiliary bishop (1987–1996) and archbishop (1996–2001) of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.[1] He was created a cardinal in 2003.[2]

Since Pell's appointment as Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, he has maintained a high public profile on a wide range of issues, while retaining a strict adherence to Catholic orthodoxy. He is generally regarded as progressive on many social issues[3] but conservative on matters of faith and morals.

Due to his upbringing and service as a priest in Ballarat, followed by his roles as Archbishop of Melbourne then Sydney, Pell was a witness at the 2013–2016 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the 2013 Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Organisations.

Life timeline[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Pell was born in Ballarat, Victoria, to George Arthur and Margaret Lillian (née Burke) Pell.[2] His father, a non-practising Anglican whose ancestors were from Leicestershire in England, was a heavyweight boxing champion; his mother was a devout Catholic of Irish descent.[4] During World War II, his father served in the Australian Defence Force.[4][page needed] His sister, Margaret, became a violinist with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.[5] As a child, he underwent 24 operations to remove an abscess in his throat.[4][page needed]

Pell received his early education at Loreto Convent and later at St Patrick's College, where he matriculated. Both colleges are in his native Ballarat.[6] At St Patrick's, Pell played as a ruckman on the first XVIII from 1956 to 1959.[5] He even signed to play with the Richmond Football Club.[2] However, his ambitions later turned to the priesthood. Speaking of his decision to become a priest, Pell once said, "To put it crudely, I feared and suspected and eventually became convinced that God wanted me to do His work, and I was never able to successfully escape that conviction."[4][page needed]

In 1960, he began his priestly studies at Corpus Christi College, then located in Werribee.[6] One of his fellow seminarians at Corpus Christi was Denis Hart, Pell's future successor as Archbishop of Melbourne.[4] Pell continued to play football and served as class prefect in his second and third years.[4][page needed] In 1963, he was assigned to continue his studies at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome.[5] He was ordained to the diaconate on 15 August 1966.[2]


On 16 December 1966, Pell was ordained a priest by Cardinal Grégoire-Pierre Agagianian at St. Peter's Basilica.[1] He received a Licentiate of Sacred Theology from the Urbaniana University in 1967 and continued his studies at the University of Oxford where he earned a D.Phil in church history in 1971 with a thesis entitled "The exercise of authority in early Christianity from about 170 to about 270".[2][7] During his studies at Oxford, he also served as a chaplain to Catholic students at Eton College, where he celebrated the first Roman Catholic Mass since the English Reformation.[4]

In 1971, he returned to Australia and was assigned to serve as an assistant priest in Swan Hill, where he remained for two years.[2] He then served at a parish in Ballarat East from 1973 to 1983, becoming administrator of the parish of Bungaree in 1984.[2] In 1982, he earned a Master of Education degree from Monash University in Melbourne.[6] During his tenure in Ballarat East and Bungaree, he also served as Episcopal Vicar for Education (1973–84), director of the Aquinas campus of the Institute of Catholic Education (1974–84) and principal of the Institute of Catholic Education (1981–84).[6] He was also editor of Light, the newspaper of the Diocese of Ballarat, from 1979 to 1984.[2]

From 1985 to 1987, Pell served as seminary rector of his alma mater, Corpus Christi College.[6]


Pell was appointed an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne and Titular Bishop of Scala on 30 March 1987. He received his episcopal consecration on 21 May 1987 from Archbishop Frank Little, with bishops Ronald Mulkearns and Joseph O'Connell serving as co-consecrators. He served as Bishop for the Southern Region of Melbourne (1987–96). During this time, he was a parish priest in Mentone.[6]

Pell was named seventh Archbishop of Melbourne on 16 July 1996, receiving the pallium from Pope John Paul II on 29 June 1997. He was later appointed eighth Archbishop of Sydney on 26 March 2001 and again received the pallium from John Paul on 29 June 2001.

Pell was a consultor of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace from 1990 to 1995 and a member from 2002. From 1990 to 2000 he was a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In April 2002, John Paul II named him President of the Vox Clara commission to advise the Congregation for Divine Worship on English translations of liturgical texts. In December 2002 he was appointed a member of the Pontifical Council for the Family, having previously served as a consultor to the council. On 22 September 2012, Pell was appointed a member of the Congregation for Bishops.

Church role[edit]


Since Pell's appointment as Archbishop of Melbourne he has maintained a high public profile on a wide range of issues, while retaining a strict adherence to Catholic orthodoxy; with some dispute over the issue of Catholics and "primacy of conscience".[8][9]

Pell worked co-operatively with his Anglican counterpart in Sydney, Peter Jensen, on political issues while avoiding theological controversies. In defending the importance of religious belief in building a just society, Pell worked with representatives of non-Christian faiths, arguing in 2001 that "the most significant religious change in Australia over the past 50 years is the increase of people without religion, now about one fifth of the population. All monotheists, Christians and Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, must labour to reverse this. We must not allow the situation to deteriorate as it had in Elijah's time, 850 years before Christ, where monotheism was nearly swamped by the aggressive paganism of the followers of Baal."[citation needed]

On 28 September 2003, Pope John Paul II announced that he would nominate Pell and 28 others to the College of Cardinals.[10] In the consistory of 21 October he was created and proclaimed Cardinal-Priest of S. Maria Domenica Mazzarello. For the first time ever, from Pell's elevation to the cardinalate in 2003 until Edward Bede Clancy's 80th birthday on 13 December 2003, there were three Australian cardinal electors (had a papal election become necessary), including Clancy and Edward Idris Cassidy, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Pell was one of the electors who participated in the 2005 papal conclave that selected Pope Benedict XVI. It has been speculated that Pell served as a type of "campaign manager" behind Benedict's election.[11] While there was a little speculation in the Australian media that he had an outside chance of becoming Pope himself, international commentary on the papal succession (aside from one Italian source) did not mention Pell as a contender. However, Pell was mentioned as a possible successor to Benedict XVI as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.[12] This position was given to William Levada, former Archbishop of San Francisco. Pell remains eligible to participate in any future papal conclaves that begin before his 80th birthday on 8 June 2021.

In 2006, Pell made a successful bid for Sydney to host the 2008 World Youth Day, one of the largest regular international gatherings of young people in the world, often attracting crowds of millions. The 2008 event brought Pope Benedict XVI on his first papal visit to Australia. "We take it for granted that people will always give to the poor and be concerned about social justice", Pell said soon after winning the bid, in remarks which spelled out his pastoral priorities. "But this doesn't just happen by itself. Many great civilisations have shown no regard for these values at all and have even considered them weaknesses ... Every society requires a goodly percentage of active believers to ensure that the values of a fair go and respect for others are promoted, and passed on the next generation. World Youth Day will make a powerful contribution to this vital work".[citation needed]

In February 2007, Pell instituted new guidelines when it comes for family members to speak at funerals. He said that, "on not a few occasions, inappropriate remarks glossing over the deceased's proclivities (drinking prowess, romantic conquests etc) or about the Church (attacking its moral teachings) have been made at funeral Masses."[13] Pell's guidelines make it clear that the eulogy must never replace the celebrant's homily, which should focus on the Scripture readings selected, God's compassion, and the resurrection of Jesus.

On 18 September 2012, Pell was named by Pope Benedict XVI to be one of the papally-appointed Synod Fathers for the October 2012 Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.[14]

Pell was the only cardinal from Oceania to take part in the 2013 papal conclave.[15] Following the election of Pope Francis, Pell was one of eight members appointed to advise the Pope on how to reform the Catholic Church.[16]

Secretariat for the Economy[edit]

In February 2014, Pell was appointed to be the first cardinal-prefect of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy.[17] In this role, Pell is responsible for the annual budget of the Holy See and the Vatican.[18] As a result of his appointment, the see of Sydney fell vacant.

In July 2014 it was announced that Pell, with the consent of Pope Francis, had the Ordinary Section of Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) transferred to the Secretariat for the Economy and claimed that this was an important step to enable the Secretariat for the Economy to exercise its responsibilities of economic control and vigilance over the agencies of the Holy See. It was also announced that remaining staff of APSA would begin to focus exclusively on its role as a treasury for the Holy See and the Vatican City State.[19]

Following the confirmation of the Institute for the Works of Religion's mission by the Pope on 7 April 2014 the IOR announced plans for the next stage of development. The Council of Cardinals, the Secretariat for the Economy, the Supervisory Commission of Cardinals and the current IOR Board of Superintendence have agreed that this plan will be carried out by a new executive team led by Jean-Baptiste de Franssu.[19]

Pell was appointed a member of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in September 2014.

It was reported in November 2014 that the Secretariat for the Economy has distributed a new handbook to all Vatican offices outlining financial management policies that would go into effect on 1 January 2015. The manual was endorsed by the Council for the Economy and approved by Pope Francis in forma specifica. "The purpose of the manual is very simple", said Pell, "it brings Financial Management practices in line with international standards and will help all Entities and Administrations of the Holy See and the Vatican City State prepare financial reports in a consistent and transparent manner." The Secretariat for the Economy will provide training and support to the Vatican/Holy See offices to help implement the new policies.[20]

In 2015, Cardinal Coccopalmerio questioned the scope of the authority given to the Secretariat for the Economy and to Pell himself. These questions involved not the demand for transparency in all financial operations, but the consolidation of management under the Secretariat for the Economy.[21][22]

Health in later life[edit]

In February 2010 it was reported that Pell "had a heart turn in Rome recently and that he's in hospital there or has been in hospital there". It is thought that Pell was taken to hospital when he first arrived in Rome after he collapsed due to ill health and exhaustion. He was released from hospital the same day and sources close to Pell said that he had been in good health since.[23]

Pell's heart condition was again in the news in late 2015, when it was judged serious enough to prevent air travel from Italy to Australia to appear before the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sex abuse. He was expected to be well enough to travel in February 2016.[24] However, in the end he testified from a hotel in Rome through a video link up.


In the Australian context, Pell is regarded as progressive on many social issues but a conservative on matters of faith and morals.[3] He has often been wary of what he calls the "callousness" of unrestrained capitalism. He has written that a Catholic is someone who is not only a person of personal conscience but "is someone who believes Christ is Son of God, accepts His teachings and lives a life of worship, service and duty in the community. Catholics are not created by the accident of birth to remain only because their tribe has an interesting history."[25]

Theology and worship[edit]

Ad orientem liturgy[edit]

Pell supports, in the abstract but not as a proposal for immediate application, mandatory celebration of the Canon of the Mass with the ad orientem orientation of the priest, facing in the same direction as the congregation. "There's nothing like a consensus in favour of that at the moment. I think I would be in favour of it because it makes it patently clear that the priest is not the centre of the show, that this an act of worship of the one true God, and the people are joining with the priest for that."[26]

Adam and Eve[edit]

During a debate against Richard Dawkins on the show Q&A in 2012, in response to whether there had ever been a Garden of Eden scenario with an "actual" Adam and Eve, Pell said:[27][28]

Adam and Eve are terms – what do they mean: life and earth. It’s like every man. That’s a beautiful, sophisticated, mythological account. It’s not science but it’s there to tell us two or three things. First of all that God created the world and the universe. Secondly, that the key to the whole of universe, the really significant thing, are humans and, thirdly, it is a very sophisticated mythology to try to explain the evil and suffering in the world.

Heaven and Hell[edit]

Asked to describe his concept of Heaven for Australian TV in 2012, Pell said:[27]

[I]n some sense we will be there as continuing persons. In some with a new heaven and a new earth with all the good things that we've done will be incorporated into the new heaven and new earth. How it will work out I don't know because, I think, physically and morally and intellectually we're at our peak at different stages in our life. How it will work out I've got no idea but that is the general outline of Christian teaching.

Asked about the subject of Hell, Pell said that he used the example of Hitler to explain the notion of a need for Hell: "You think Hitler might be in hell? Started the Second World War, caused the death of 50 million or would you prefer a system where Hitler got away with it for free?"[29]

We Catholics generally believe that there is a hell. I hope nobody is there. I certainly believe in a place of purification. I think it will be like getting up in the morning and you throw the curtains back and the light is just too much. God's light would be too much for us. But I believe on behalf of the innocent victims in history that the scales of justice should work out. And if they don't, life is radically unjust, the law of the jungle prevails.

Ordination of women and priestly celibacy[edit]

Pell supported Pope John Paul II's view that the ordination of women as priests is impossible according to the church's divine constitution and has also expressed his opinion that abandoning the tradition of clerical celibacy would be a "serious blunder".[30]

Society of St Pius X[edit]

Pell has expressed agreement with the lifting of the excommunication of the four bishops of the Traditionalist Catholic Society of St Pius X (SSPX). He has said that "I think it is certainly a worthy goal to try to reconcile that wing of the Church", but also insisted that the SSPX must accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council before it can be fully reconciled with the Holy See, saying: "I think it would be quite incongruous wanting to be formally reconciled with the Church if you are explicitly disavowing key elements of Vatican II", among which he mentioned the teaching that "the state cannot coerce belief" and the council's "condemnation of anti-semitism".[31]

Pope Benedict XVI[edit]

Pell commented publicly that the decision of Pope Benedict XVI to retire in 2013 could set a precedent which may be a problem for future leaders. He said Benedict's decision to step down had destabilised the church and said some of those surrounding the Pope had failed to support him in his ministry. "He was well aware that this is a break with tradition [and] slightly destabilising", Pell said. According to him, the Pope was a better theologian than he was a leader.[32]

In response to the claim that he had criticised Pope Benedict XVI, Pell confirmed that he was stating what the Pope has already mentioned himself, and his comments were "not breaking any ground".[32]

During a youth conference in Parramatta, Bishop Anthony Fisher OP confirmed that Pell was merely "stating the pros and cons of the Pope's decision", and that those who claimed that his comments were critical were taking him out of context.[33]

Political issues[edit]

Afghanistan and Iraq Wars[edit]

Pell has written that he supported the Afghanistan War but believed that the Iraq War was "not morally justified".[34]

Asylum seekers and refugees[edit]

Pell has criticised the bipartisan policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers in Australia and called for "empathy and compassion" towards displaced peoples.[35] Pell said that while a policy of deterrence was justifiable, the practice of the policy was coming at too great a "moral cost".[36] Describing conditions in some of Australia's mandatory detention camps in 2001 as "pretty tight and miserable" and "no place for women and children", Pell called for investigation of any maltreatment of detainees and said that, while Australia has the right to regulate the number of refugees it accepts, as a rich and prosperous country, it can "afford to be generous" and must treat refugees who reach Australia humanely.[37]

Australian republicanism[edit]

Pell was appointed a delegate to the Australian Constitutional Convention 1998 which considered the issue of Australia becoming a republic. Pell supported change, and called on Australia's political leaders to embrace the republic, noting "Without support from most of the front benches of both sides of the parliament, it would be wasteful to go to a referendum." Towards the end of proceedings, he called on conservatives to support change.[38]

Syrian Civil War[edit]

Pell believes that western countries should not intervene in the Syrian Civil War as Bashar al-Assad provides basic law and order for the population and basic protection for the Christians.[39]

World leaders[edit]

John Howard[edit]

When John Howard departed the office of Prime Minister of Australia following the 2007 Australian federal election, Pell wrote that, along with Bob Hawke, Howard had been the outstanding figure of Australian life since Robert Menzies and that he had brought 11 years of prosperity and "changed Australian life for the better".[40] Pell wrote that Howard "understood that traditional families are the cement which hold society together and he was generally supportive of Christian values". Pell said that Howard went a step too far on industrial relations policy and that the Iraq War did not go well, but that the "biggest blot on his record will remain the treatment of the refugees".[40]

John F. Kennedy[edit]

Pell describes himself as "an old Kennedy groupie" – referring to John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic President of the United States.[3]

Barack Obama[edit]

Following the 2008 election of Barack Obama as US President, Pell wrote for The Sunday Telegraph that "Obama is a superb orator with a gift for language and a capacity to inspire loyalty and hope" and that the "importance of a black President for the U.S.A. and the world cannot be underestimated; especially a black President with a Muslim father. No country in Europe could produce such a result."[citation needed] Pell expressed a need for universal health care in the United States, but criticised Obama's support for abortion, saying that he had the "most anti-life voting record of any contemporary senator" which, Pell wrote, "contrasts strongly with his humanitarianism in many other areas". Pell said that Obama would have to move beyond the "radical left" if he wanted to "win over the middle ground in the fight for healing and prosperity".[41] In a 2009 interview with The Catholic Herald, Pell said of Obama, "[H]is record on life issues is very, very bad indeed" and expressed his opposition to the Freedom of Choice Act.[26]

Kevin Rudd[edit]

When the Australian Labor Party replaced Kevin Rudd as its leader in 2010 and Julia Gillard became the Prime Minister of Australia, Pell wrote that "As leaders Rudd and Opposition leader Tony Abbott are historically unusual by Australian standards because both worship regularly and have publicly acknowledged the huge Christian contribution to Australia. The rise and fall of Kevin Rudd has no parallel nationally. While he talked himself out of his job with his inflated rhetoric, he had many virtues and Australia avoided recession. John Howard was voted out by the Australian public; Rudd's departure will leave a nasty taste in many mouths."[42]

Environmental concerns[edit]

Pell aroused criticism from Senator Christine Milne of the Greens political party with the following comment in his 2006 Legatus Summit speech:[43]

Some of the hysteric and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear when confronted by the immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature. Belief in a benign God who is master of the universe has a steadying psychological effect, although it is no guarantee of Utopia, no guarantee that the continuing climate and geographic changes will be benign. In the past pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

In a 2007 article for The Sunday Telegraph, Pell wrote that while climate had changed, he was '"certainly sceptical about extravagant claims of impending man-made climatic catastrophes, because the evidence is insufficient".[44]

Responding to the Anglican bishop and environmentalist George Browning, who told the Anglican Church of Australia's general synod that Pell was out of touch with the Catholic Church as well as with the general community,[45] Pell stated:[46]

Radical environmentalists are more than up to the task of moralising their own agenda and imposing it on people through fear. They don't need church leaders to help them with this, although it is a very effective way of further muting Christian witness. Church leaders in particular should be allergic to nonsense..... I am certainly sceptical about extravagant claims of impending man-made climatic catastrophes. Uncertainties on climate change abound ... my task as a Christian leader is to engage with reality, to contribute to debate on important issues, to open people's minds, and to point out when the emperor is wearing few or no clothes.

Pell has criticised Pope Francis for the encyclical Laudato si'.[47]

Interfaith issues[edit]


Pell has written of a need to "deepen friendship and understanding" with Muslims in the post–September 11 environment and has said that though there is a continuing struggle throughout the Muslim world between moderates and men of violence, he believes that, in Australia, "the moderates are in control".[48]

In 2004, speaking to the Acton Institute on the problems of "secular democracy", Pell drew a parallel between Islam and Communism: "Islam may provide in the 21st century, the attraction that communism provided in the 20th, both for those that are alienated and embittered on the one hand and for those who seek order or justice on the other."[49]

In 2006, at the Legatus Summit in Naples, Florida, Pell stated: "Considered strictly on its own terms, Islam is not a tolerant religion and its capacity for far-reaching renovation is severely limited."[43]

However, he added that the human factor of many Muslims being uncomfortable with the violence and harsh intolerance of traditional Islamic practices provides hope for positive change as has occurred in more moderate Muslim nations. He continued by "denouncing the blithe encouragement of large scale Islamic migration into Western nations" and saying it had a "detrimental impact on economic and cultural development at certain times and in certain places".[43]

In 2012 and 2013, Pell hosted Iftar dinners to mark the end of the Islamic celebration of Ramadan.[50] The Mufti of Australia, Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, expressed his gratitude and appreciation to Pell on behalf of Muslims for hosting the dinner.[51] Pell said during the 2012 dinner that such gatherings are one of the fruits of tolerance that flourishes in Australian society and is a sign of respect for diversity, stating:[51]

We are all called to be instruments of peace and harmony among aggressors and those who practice terrorism although we worship the one God in different ways... We gather united in our plans for respect and friendship.


Pell has participated in many interfaith dialogues and celebrations involving Jewish people. In 2001, he told one such audience at Mandelbaum House that he had come from a strongly pro-Jewish family and of being saddened during his studies of history to find Christian ill-treatment of Jews. Pell spoke of the need to remember the Holocaust and of his visits to concentration camps and of his support for the right of the state of Israel to exist. He praised the role of Vatican II and of Pope John Paul II in advancing the cause of Christian-Jewish dialogue and co-operation. Pell also spoke in praise of the Jewish psalms as "a body of prayerful literature" unequalled in any other tradition and singled out the Jewish prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel as authors for whom he has a deep love and Elijah as one whom he views as highly significant. Pell called on Christian and Jewish leaders alike to speak together and respectfully listen to each other, saying of the Christian-Jewish relationship:[52]

During the last 30 or 40 years there has been a significant reduction in the amount of Christian anti-Semitism. We thank God for that. To adapt to our circumstances the word of Martin Luther King "we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly". Our fortunes, as brothers, are inextricably linked.

During a 2012 televised panel discussion including himself and Richard Dawkins on the Australian TV programme Q&A, Pell stated that he had "a great admiration for the Jews" and repeatedly condemned Adolf Hitler. During the course of the discussion, ABC moderator Tony Jones sought to imply anti-Semitism in Pell's remarks regarding the relative intellectual development of ancient Jewish society with that of great powers like Egypt, as well as in Pell's comment that Germany was punished for its role in the Second World War.[53]

In responding to a series of questions by Jones as to why God would "randomly decide to provide proof of his existence to a small group of Jews 2,000 years ago", Pell said that, while the intellectual life of the ancient Jews was not the equal of the surrounding great powers like Egypt, Persia and Chaldea, "Jesus came not as a philosopher to the elite. He came to the poor and the battlers". Jones cross examined Pell over his use of the word "intellectual" and Pell said (in reference to Biblical times) that "the little Jewish people, they were originally shepherds. They were stuck. They're still stuck between these great powers."[27]

Referring to events like "The Holocaust, to genocide, to famine", Jones asked why an omnipotent God would permit such events to occur. In response, Pell and Jones had the following exchange:[27]

  • Pell: That's a mighty question. He helped probably through secondary causes for the Jews to escape and continue. It is interesting through these secondary causes probably no people in history have been punished the way the Germans were. It is a terrible mystery.
  • Moderator: There would be a very strong argument saying that the Jews of Europe suffered worse than the Germans.
  • Pell: Yes, that might be right. Certainly the suffering in both I mean the Jews there was no reason why they should suffer.

Pell's remarks were widely misreported and misinterpreted, leading to a clarification from his office – reported by The Times of Israel as an apology.[54] Pell said that "my commitment to friendship with the Jewish community, and my esteem for the Jewish faith is a matter of public record, and the last thing I would want to do is give offense to either" and that the Holocaust was "a crime unique in history for the death and suffering it caused and its diabolical attempt to wipe out an entire people."[54][55]

Sexuality, marriage and bioethics[edit]

Pell has received much attention for his attitudes to sexuality issues, particularly homosexuality. He has said that "Christian teaching on sexuality is only one part of the Ten Commandments, of the virtues and vices, but it is essential for human wellbeing and especially for the proper flourishing of marriages and families, for the continuity of the human race."[56] Upon becoming Archbishop of Sydney, he stated: "Any genuine religion has two important moral tasks; firstly, to present norms and ideals, goals for our striving; and secondly, to offer aids for our weakness, forgiveness and healing for every wrong doer and sinner who repents and seeks forgiveness."[56]


Pell says that, outside exceptional circumstances such as relationships involving physical abuse, it is better for individuals and for society if couples do not divorce, particularly where children are involved.[57]

In 2001, ABC radio's The World Today reported that Pell wanted a return to a divorce system based on the fault of one spouse. Pell told the program that, in an effort to "focus attention on the damage, personal and financial, that unfortunately often follows from divorce" he had prepared a list for public consideration of possible penalties to discourage divorce (particularly where fault by one party was involved); as well as benefits to support couples who stayed together.


Main article: Religion and AIDS

In 2009, Pell supported the comments made by Pope Benedict XVI in Africa in relation to controlling the spread of AIDS, in which the Pope reiterated the Catholic teaching that the solution to the AIDS epidemic lay not in the distribution of condoms, but in the practice of sexual abstinence and monogamy within marriage. The Pope said that AIDS could not be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which "can even increase the problem". In response to global coverage of these remarks, Pell said that AIDS was "great spiritual and health crisis" and a huge challenge, but that "Condoms are encouraging promiscuity. They are encouraging irresponsibility."[58]

The idea that you can solve a great spiritual and health crisis like AIDS with a few mechanical contraptions like condoms is ridiculous. If you look at the Philippines you'll see the incidence of AIDS is much lower than it is in Thailand, which is awash with condoms. There are condoms everywhere and the rate of infection is enormous.

The president of the AIDS Council of NSW, Marc Orr, said Pell's comments were "irresponsible" and "contradicted all evidence" that condoms reduced the transmission of HIV:[59] Mike Toole (Burnet Institute) and Rob Moodie (Nossal Institute for Global Health) wrote in The Age that Pell had said a health worker from an African country told him that "people in remote areas are too poor to afford condoms and the ones that are available are often of very poor quality and weren't used effectively". Both professors argue that "this is not an argument against promoting condoms – it is an argument that we need to ensure that good quality condoms are affordable for everyone and are widely distributed with information about how to use them effectively" and concluded "the sexual abstinence message is clearly not working."[60]

In 2010, in Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, a book-length interview by German journalist Peter Seewald, Pope Benedict said that while the church did not consider condoms as a "real or moral solution", there were times where the "intention of reducing the risk of infection" made condom use "a first step" towards a better way. Pell released a statement saying this did not signal a major new shift in Vatican thinking.[61]

As Archbishop of Sydney, Pell has strongly supported the work of Catholic health organisations such as St Vincent's Hospital and the Tree of Hope Centre in caring for those living with HIV/AIDS.[62]

Stem cell debate controversy[edit]

Pell supports research on the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells but opposes embryonic stem cell research on the basis that the church cannot support anything which involves "the destruction of human life at any stage after conception". Under Pell, the Sydney archdiocese has provided funding for adult stem cell research but has actively opposed moves by New South Wales Parliament to liberalise laws pertaining to use of embryonic stem cells.[25][63]

In remarks made at a media conference, in June 2007 on a conscience vote overturning the state ban on therapeutic cloning, Pell said that "Catholic politicians who vote for this legislation must realise that their voting has consequences for their place in the life of the Church." Some members of parliament, including ministers such as Kristina Keneally and Nathan Rees, condemned Pell's comments, calling them hypocritical; Rees drew comparisons with comments made earlier in the year by Sheik Hilali.[64][65] Australian Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon referred Pell's remarks to the New South Wales parliamentary privileges committee for allegedly being in "contempt of parliament". Pell described this move as a "clumsy attempt to curb religious freedom and freedom of speech".[66] In September the committee tabled a report clearing him of this charge and recommending that no further action be taken.[67]

Other roles[edit]

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney takes the role of visitor[68] of St John's College, a residential college within the University of Sydney. This is a largely ceremonial role but he can also be called upon to give guidance and resolve internal disputes. Under the direction of the archbishop the college associates itself with the interests of the church and its mission, particularly by the fostering of appropriate academic directions in education, charity, social justice, ethics and the environment.

Pell accepted the invitation to be patron of the Oxford University Newman Society and to deliver their inaugural St Thomas More Lecture on 6 March 2009.[citation needed]

Pell is a regular contributor of articles for the Australian media, including regular columns for Sydney's The Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

Pell is a former Fellow of the Australian College of Education.

Sexual abuse by clergy and members of religious orders[edit]

"Melbourne Response" and "Towards Healing" protocols[edit]

Under Pell's leadership while Archbishop of Melbourne, the "Melbourne Response" and the "Towards Healing" protocols were established in Australia to respond to allegations of child abuse.[69] In 1996, three months after being installed as Archbishop of Melbourne, Pell set up the Melbourne Response to be an independent process which offered counselling and support to victims at no cost to them, as well as ex gratia compensation (payments made without the church recognising any liability or legal obligation) to victims. The ex gratia payments were capped, but victims were publicly encouraged to come forward. Soon after, the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference established Towards Healing.[70]

Response to historic allegations in Sydney[edit]

During Pell's time as Archbishop of Sydney, allegations of sexual abuse were made against around 55 priests in the archdiocese. These were almost exclusively relating to incidents that occurred prior to his arrival as archbishop. The allegations resulted in just under $8 million in reparation payments.[71]

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse[edit]

In late 2012, the Australian federal government announced the establishment of a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In a televised media conference, Pell welcomed the royal commission. His comments received significant media attention when he stated that priests who hear confessions from people who commit child sex abuse must remain bound by the Seal of Confession, commenting:[72][73][74][75]

If that is done outside the confessional (it can be reported to the police).... (But) the Seal of Confession is inviolable. If the priest knows beforehand about such a situation, the priest should refuse to hear the confession... That would be my advice, and I would never hear the confession of a priest who is suspected of such a thing.

In a 2012 address, Pell stated that he was deeply sorry for the hurt that had occurred, describing it as completely contrary to Christ's teachings.[76][77][78]

In 2014, the royal commission was told how lawyers representing Pell and the Archdiocese of Sydney incurred costs of A$1.5 million against a victim of sexual abuse. The lawyers, acting on the church's instructions, "vigorously" fought John Ellis through the courts despite warnings of his "fragile psychological state". The resulting NSW Court of Appeal ruling established the controversial "Ellis Defence", which confirmed that the church could not be sued as a legal entity and held liable for abuse committed by a priest in such matters. Eventually, Ellis received $568,000 from the church. In a statement to the royal commission in March 2014, Pell reversed his earlier stance in support of the defence, saying: "My own view is that the Church in Australia should be able to be sued in cases of this kind."[71]

Pell appeared before the royal commission by video link from the Vatican in August 2014 and again in February/March 2016, the latter due to health reasons.[79][80]

Following Pell's inability to travel in 2016, a GoFundMe campaign entitled "Send Ballarat Survivors to Rome" was launched to enable 15 victims of abuse to travel to Rome and see him give evidence in person. It reached its target of A$55,000 in one day, doubled that the following day and trebled it the day after.[81][82] Comedian and musician Tim Minchin wrote and recorded the song "Come Home (Cardinal Pell)", with all proceeds to go to the GoFundMe campaign. The song described Pell as "scum" and Minchin posed as God saying "I've got a nice spot in Hell with your name on it." Uploaded to YouTube, within 24 hours it had over 400,000 views and reached the number one position on the iTunes song chart in Australia.[82][83]

Pell has been accused of ignoring accounts of physical and sexual abuse and covering up such abuse by the now-adult victims of various priests under his supervision, most notably Father Gerald Ridsdale, among others, which abuse lasted over two decades. Ridsdale is now in prison, being convicted of 54 counts of sexual assault upon children. Pell has never been charged with complicity in any such crimes and continues to work directly for the Vatican in the area of high finance.[84]

On 6 February 2017, the royal commission heard that 7% of Australia’s Catholic priests had been accused of abusing children in the six decades since 1950; all told, between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 people alleged incidents of child sexual abuse relating to 93 Catholic Church authorities.[85]

2014 appearance[edit]

In his 2014 appearance, Pell likened the Catholic Church to a trucking company: "If the truck driver picks up some lady and then molests her, I don't think it's appropriate, because it is contrary to the policy, for the ownership, the leadership of that company to be held responsible."[86] He was widely criticised for this remark.[87][88][89][90] The president of Adults Surviving Child Abuse, Cathy Kezelman, called his comments "outrageous", saying that they denied the experience of victims. Nicky Davis, from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said that Pell had made a "highly offensive" comparison.[89][91] Michael Bradley, writing in his weekly column for ABC News, said "Yes, it was mind-blowingly insensitive to draw that analogy and to so blithely refer to 'some lady'. But there was a much bigger hole. In the world according to Pell, if the Catholic Church has a policy that tells its priests not to rape children then, if they still do so, the Church cannot be held accountable."[86]

2015 accusations and denials regarding Gerald Ridsdale[edit]

Pell was accused by David Ridsdale, a victim of child sex abuse in Ballarat and the nephew of Gerald Ridsdale, of attempting to bribe him in 1993 in order to prevent the abuse being made public. The allegations were made before the royal commission in May 2015.[92][93] Pell served as an assistant priest at St Alipius' Church, Ballarat East, and shared a house with Ridsdale in 1973.[90] Ridsdale was described by The Sydney Morning Herald as "defrocked".[94] Ridsdale was convicted between 1993 and 2013 of a very large number of child sexual abuse and indecent assault charges against children aged as young as four years, the total number of known victims standing at 54. The abuse took place during the 1970s and 1980s.[95][96] Pell denied knowing about any of Ridsdale's actions and denied his nephew's allegations.[97] Pell was part of a leadership group of Catholic priests in the Diocese of Ballarat that met during 1982 and discussed moving Ridsdale from the parish at Mortlake and sending him to Sydney.[98]

2016 appearance[edit]

Appearing before the royal commission in February and March 2016 by video link from a hotel in Rome, Pell gave evidence in front of 15 victims of abuse who had travelled from Australia to Rome to witness his testimony. The hearing in Sydney was open to the media.[99] Swearing on the Bible, Pell stated that he did not think the problems with abuse were with the institutional structure of the Catholic Church. "The Church has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those", he said. "The Church in many places, certainly in Australia, has mucked things up, has let people down. I'm not here to defend the indefensible."[100] Counsel assisting the royal commission alleged that there were also wider problems with the church's hierarchy in Australia and Rome and beyond, which they thought he understated or sidestepped.[100] Regarding the allegations of children, he said that "the predisposition was not to believe" and that the instinct was to protect the church.[101]

"Too many of them certainly were dismissed and sometimes they were dismissed in absolutely scandalous circumstances, They were very, very, very plausible allegations made by responsible people that were not followed up sufficiently."

Pell also stated that the way Gerald Ridsdale was dealt with was "a catastrophe for the victims and a catastrophe for the church". But referring to rumours of abuse per se, "in those days", he said, "if a priest denied such activity, I was very strongly inclined to accept the denial".[101]

In June 2016 the Holy See Press Office director Federico Lombardi announced that Pell would continue in his role as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, despite being obliged to submit his resignation on turning 75. Lombardi reminded reporters that Pope Francis had previously expressed his full confidence in Pell, and that Francis wished him to continue as prefect.[102]

2013 Victorian parliamentary inquiry[edit]

On 27 May 2013, Pell gave evidence before Victoria's Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Organisations.[103]

The journalist David Marr wrote that "He [Pell] admitted his church had covered up abuse for fear of scandal; that his predecessor Archbishop Little had destroyed records, moved paedophile priests from parish to parish and facilitated appalling crimes."[104]

Accusations against Pell of sexual abuse[edit]

In June 2002, Pell was accused of having sexually abused a 12-year-old boy at a Roman Catholic youth camp in 1961 whilst a seminarian. Pell vigorously denied all the accusations and stood aside as soon as the allegations were made public,[105] but he did not resign as archbishop. The complainant agreed to pursue his allegations through the church's own process for dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct, the National Committee for Professional Standards (NCPS). Justice A.J. Southwell, hired by the church to investigate the matter, found that the complainant gave the impression of "speaking honestly from actual recollection".[106][107] Justice Southwell concluded, however, that notwithstanding this impression, he could not regard the complaint as established:[108]

In the end, and notwithstanding that impression of the complainant, bearing in mind the forensic difficulties of the defence occasioned by very long delay, some valid criticism of the complainant's credibility, the lack of corroborative evidence and the sworn denial of the respondent, I find I am not satisfied that the complaint has been established.

Pell claimed to have been exonerated, while the complainant's solicitor said his client had been vindicated.[108]

In February 2016, it was reported that Pell had been under investigation for the past year by Victoria Police over multiple child molestation allegations.[109] Pell issued an immediate and vehement denial.[110] It was reported that Detectives in Victoria wanted to fly to the Vatican to interview Pell regarding the allegations, which were of the sexual abuse of "up to 10 minors between 1978 and 2001", and were waiting for "senior figures to 'give them the go-ahead'".[111] Frank Brennan SJ, AO criticised the timing of the media report, saying that it may undermine the Royal Commission proceedings.[112]

On 28 July 2016, the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Graham Ashton, confirmed that there was an investigation into alleged child sexual abuse by Pell following a report by the ABC's 7.30 program the previous day and stated that he was awaiting advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).[113][114][115] On 17 August 2016, Victoria Police confirmed a response had been received from the DPP, however, would not disclose the DPP's recommendations.[116]

In October 2016, three officers of Victoria Police flew to Rome to question Pell about allegations that he had touched two boys inappropriately while swimming with them at a swimming pool in the 1970s.[117]

On 6 February 2017, Victoria Police confirmed that a brief of evidence made against Pell regarding sexual assault allegations had been returned to the Office of Public Prosecutions for review.[118]


Pell has written widely in religious and secular magazines, learned journals and newspapers in Australia and overseas. He regularly speaks on television and radio. His other publications include The Sisters of St Joseph in Swan Hill 1922–72 (1972), Catholicism in Australia (1988), Rerum Novarum – One Hundred Years Later (1992), Catholicism and the Architecture of Freedom.

  • Pell, George (1977). Bread, stones or fairy floss : religious education today (pamphlet). Melbourne: Australian Catholic Truth Society Publications. 
  • Pell, George (1979). Are our secondary schools Catholic? (pamphlet). Melbourne: Australian Catholic Truth Society Publications. 
  • Pell, George (1982). An evaluation of the goal of moral autonomy in the theory and practice of Lawrence Kohlberg (microfiche) (Thesis). Clayton, Melbourne: Monash University. 
  • Pell, George; Woods, Mary Helen (1996). Issues of Faith and Morals (paperback). Melbourne: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-553978-8.  For senior secondary classes and parish groups.
  • Pell, George (1999). Catholicism and the architecture of freedom (oration). The Inaugural Acton Lecture on Religion and Freedom. St Leonards, Sydney: Centre for Independent Studies (Australia). p. 14. ISBN 1-86432-044-3. 
  • Pell, George (2004). Livingstone, Tess, ed. Be not afraid : collected writing (paperback). Sydney: Duffy & Snellgrove. ISBN 1-876631-97-X.  A collection of homilies and reflections.
  • Pell, George (2007). Casey, M. A., ed. God and Caesar: Selected Essays on Religion, Politics, and Society (paperback). Ballan, Victoria: Connor Court. ISBN 978-0-8132-1503-7. 
  • Pell, George (2010). Livingstone, Tess, ed. Test Everything: Hold Fast to What Is Good (paperback). Ballan, Victoria: Connor Court. ISBN 978-1-9214-2137-2. 





See also[edit]


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  4. ^ a b c d e f g Livingstone, Tess (2004). George Pell: Defender of the Faith Down Under (American ed.). San Francisco: Ignatius Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-89870-984-9. 
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  38. ^ "Transcript of Proceedings" (PDF). Constitutional Convention: 2 to 13 February 1998. Old Parliament House, Canberra. 13 February 1998. Retrieved 13 March 2012. 
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  62. ^ "Reason for Optimism on World AIDS Day 2010" (Press release). Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. 30 November 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
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External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Marion Francis Forst
Titular Bishop of Scala
Succeeded by
Edward Joseph Adams
as Titular Archbishop of Scala
Preceded by
Frank Little
Archbishop of Melbourne
Succeeded by
Denis Hart
Preceded by
Edward Clancy
Archbishop of Sydney
Succeeded by
Anthony Fisher
Political offices
New dicastery Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy