George Pell, acquitted of Vatican sex abuse, dies

STORY: Cardinal George Pell, who was acquitted three years ago of child sexual abuse allegations in the Roman Catholic Church, died on Tuesday at the age of 81.

That's according to his secretary, who says he died at a hospital in Rome of heart complications after hip surgery.

Pell was a leader revered by Catholic conservatives in his native Australia, where he dominated the Church's hierarchy for two decades.

He was a close friend of former Pope Benedict, who died last month, and later became Pope Francis's economy minister at the Vatican in 2014; who once called him a "genius" on fighting corruption and on Wednesday praised him for persevering in trying times.

Those "trying times" were because Pell also became the most senior Catholic official accused in the long series of global sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Church, and he served over a year in prison before acquittal by Australia's High Court.

"Well, terrible crimes have been committed in the church's name. I think it's a bit ironic that I'm the figurehead, the scapegoat that has copped most of this."

"But, one consolation for me of course is that as a Christian, for no Christian is any earthly tribunal the last tribunal."

There were multiple abuse allegations against Pell and a government inquiry found that he knew of child sex abuse by at least two other priests in the 1970s and 80s, but failed to try and have them removed from the Church.

His prison sentence was over a conviction that he had sexually assaulted two choir boys in the 90s.

It was overturned in 2020 and he walked free. On the day of his acquittal, at Pope Francis's mass, the pope prayed for all those suffering unjust sentences, which he compared to the persecution of Jesus Christ.