Cardinal Pell farewelled at the Vatican

The Australian cardinal who decried the papacy of Pope Francis as a "catastrophe" was given a funeral Saturday in St Peter's Basilica, with the pontiff imparting a final blessing for the once high-ranking Vatican prelate.

Cardinal George Pell, 81, died on January 10, shortly after undergoing hip surgery in a Rome hospital. As the Vatican's finance minister for three years, Pell had been a key player in the early years of Francis' papacy, whose goals included reforming the Holy See's finances, which had a long history of scandals and poor management.

Pell later returned to his native Australia to be tried on child sex abuse charges over allegations that he molested two choirboys while he was archbishop of Melbourne. He served a year in solitary confinement before an earlier court conviction was overturned in 2020.

As is customary for funerals of cardinals, a final blessing, delivered in Latin, in the form a prayer for mercy and eternal rest, was recited by Pope Francis.

The funeral Mass itself was celebrated by an Italian cardinal, Giovanni Battista Re, in his role as Dean of the College of Cardinals.

Right after Pell's death, it was revealed that the cardinal was the author of a memo that had been circulating for many months. In the memo, Pell had lamented that the current papacy as a "disaster" and a "catastrophe."

Separately, the day after Pell died, a conservative magazine published what it said was an article by the cardinal decrying as a "toxic nightmare" Francis' determination to sound out Catholic laity on such issues as church teaching on sexuality and the role of women. Those issues are expected to be hotly debated later this year in a meeting of bishops from around the world summoned by Francis to the Vatican.

The day after Pell died, Francis in a condolence telegram paid tribute to the cardinal, saying that while the prelate led the economy office, "he laid the bases with determination and wisdom" for reforms of the Holy See's finance system, which had been taken to task for years by international financial watchdog bodies.

Among the concelebrants at the altar on Saturday was another high-profile Vatican prelate who in recent days had blasted Francis' leadership of the Roman Catholic church. German Archbishop Georg Gaenswein -- like Pell a staunch advocate of the church hierarchy's more conservative faction and a longtime aide of Pope Benedict XVI -- bitterly complained about how he was treated by Francis after Benedict retired in 2013 and Francis was elected as pontiff.

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 days later.