Cardinal George Pell. / Matthew Rarey
Rome Newsroom, Jan 13, 2023 / 13:05 pm (CNA).
A Catholic journalist from Italy revealed Wednesday that Cardinal George Pell, who died on Jan. 10, had been the author of a controversial memo about the next papal election.
The anonymous memo was circulated among cardinals during Lent last year and made public by Sandro Magister on March 15, 2022.
Magister, a longtime Vatican journalist, revealed the identity of the document’s author on Jan. 11, the day after Pell’s death from a cardiac arrest at the age of 81.
In an article about the Australian cardinal’s “last writings,” Magister wrote on his blog “Settimo Cielo” that “Pell was the author of that memorandum, signed ‘Demos,’ which was very critical of the pontificate of Francis.”
The funeral Mass of the Australian cardinal will be held in St. Peter’s Basilica on Jan. 14. Pope Francis will preside over the rites of final commendation and farewell, as he does for all cardinals who die in Rome.
Magister’s disclosure sparked a backlash against Pell on social media.
“Like Jesus, Francis’s love and mercy draw out bad spirits of disdain and rigidity. You saw it, sad to say, in Pell RIP,” tweeted Catholic journalist and Pope Francis biographer Austen Ivereigh.
But at least one friend of Pell’s, Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, founder and editor of Ignatius Press, voiced skepticism that Pell was the author of the memo.
“I think it’s just pure speculation as to whether he’s the author or not,” Fessio said Jan. 12 on EWTN’s “The World Over with Raymond Arroyo.” “He’s said enough things publicly that we can understand what his views were on these things. I will take a sed contra on this. George Pell was a loyal son of the Church. He would not publicly criticize the Holy Father, and I doubt that he would put his signature to something, even anonymously, that would be public criticism.”
The memo on a future conclave described Pope Francis’ pontificate as a “disaster” and listed ways the author thought the pope had caused confusion on important issues in the Church.
The document’s author also laid out what it considered to be grave problems in the Vatican, including financial, legal, and doctrinal issues, before outlining the qualities needed in the next pope.
“The Vatican’s political prestige is now at a low ebb,” the memorandum said.
The critical tone of the memo is matched by a more recent writing by Pell, published posthumously by the British magazine The Spectator.
The article, which calls Pope Francis’ three-year-long Synod on Synodality a “toxic nightmare,” was published on Jan. 11.
An associate editor of the magazine, Damian Thompson, described the article as Pell’s “last public statement,” though he did not know he was about to die when writing it and “was prepared to face the fury of Pope Francis and the [synod] organisers when it was published.”