VATICAN CITY (AP) — An Australian cardinal who denounced Pope Francis’ papacy as a “disaster” held a funeral at St. Peter’s Square, during which the Pope gave his final blessing to the once high-ranking Vatican prelate.
Cardinal George Pell, 81, died on January 10, shortly after undergoing hip surgery at a Roman hospital. As Vatican finance minister for three years, Pell was a key player in the early years of Francis’ papacy, which aimed to reform the finances of the Holy See, which had a long history of scandals and mismanagement.
Pell later returned to his native Australia to be tried on child sexual abuse charges over allegations that he had molested two choristers while he was Archbishop of Melbourne. He served a year in solitary confinement before an earlier court sentence was overturned in 2020.
As usual at the funerals of cardinals, the final blessing, delivered in Latin, in the form of a prayer for mercy and eternal rest, was said by Pope Francis.
The funeral Mass itself was celebrated by the Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals.
Shortly after Pell’s death, it came to light that the cardinal was the author of the memo that had been circulating for many months. In the memo, Pell lamented that the present papacy was a “catastrophe” and a “catastrophe”.
Separately, the day after Pell’s death, a conservative magazine published an article by the cardinal denouncing as a “toxic nightmare” Francis’ determination to probe lay Catholics on issues such as the Church’s teaching on sexuality and the role of women. These issues are expected to be hotly debated later this year at a meeting of bishops from around the world convened by Francis to the Vatican.
The day after Pell’s death, Francis paid homage to the cardinal in a telegram of condolence, saying that while the prelate was in charge of the economic office, he “with determination and wisdom laid the foundations” for reforming the Holy See’s financial system, which had been undertaken for years at the behest of international financial regulators.
Among the concelebrants at the altar on Saturday was another high-ranking Vatican prelate who has criticized Francis’ leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in recent days. German Archbishop Georg Gaenswein — like Pell, a staunch champion of the more conservative faction of the church hierarchy and a long-time associate of Pope Benedict XVI — complained bitterly about how he was treated by Francis after Benedict retired in 2013 and was elected pope.
Gaenswein unleashed a torrent of criticism of Francis in interviews hours after Benedict died in retirement at the Vatican on December 31, and in a book published a few days later.