Cardinal George Pell, who was acquitted of child sexual abuse, has died aged 81

Cardinal George Pell has died aged 81.

The Australian clergyman was a leading Roman Catholic conservative and former top official at the Vatican.

Pell, a former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, served as Vatican economy minister from 2014 until he took a leave of absence in 2017 to return to Australia to face charges of sexual abuse.

In 2018 he was convicted of molesting two choirboys at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne when he was archbishop of the diocese in the 1990s.

Always maintaining his innocence, he spent 13 months in prison until his conviction was quashed by the Australian High Court in 2020.

The ruling allowed the then 78-year-old to walk free, ending the case of the most senior figure accused in the global scandal of historical sex abuse that rocked the Roman Catholic Church worldwide.

Even before the sexual assault allegations, Pell was a polarising figure in the two decades that he dominated the Australian Catholic hierarchy - revered by conservative Catholics but disliked by liberals for his opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion and women's ordination.

Pell had been living in Rome since his acquittal in 2020.

His private secretary, Fr Joseph Hamilton, said that he died in Rome on Tuesday.

Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli added that he had suffered heart complications following hip surgery.

"Cardinal Pell was a very significant and influential Church leader, both in Australia and internationally, deeply committed to Christian discipleship," he said in a statement on Facebook.