Cardinal returns to Australia to face sex-abuse charges

Cardinal returns to Australia to face sex-abuse charges

Cardinal George Pell speaks to reporters on June 29 at the Holy See Press Office in Vatican City after he was charged with historic sexual abuse. (Massimiliano Valenti/CNA)

WASHINGTON – Cardinal George Pell, a key adviser to Pope Francis and Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic, arrived in his homeland on Monday to face charges of historic sexual abuse.

Cardinal George Pell, 76, the Vatican’s economy minister and the third-ranked official, arrived in Sydney from Rome via Singapore, which he briefly visited.

“Before leaving Rome the Cardinal consulted his doctors and on their advice took several days to return home, breaking his journey in a number of places to avoid long-haul flights,” the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said in statement on Monday.

Australia’s Nine Network showed a video of Pell getting into one of the two white vehicles waiting at a side exit at the Sydney Airport to whisk him away. He did not answer reporters’ questions.

On Sunday, Australia’s Nine Network broadcast a tourist’s video of Pell in casual attire sitting outside an ice cream shop in Singapore with a male companion. The tourist told Pell his mother wanted to know if he was innocent.

“Tell her that I am,” Pell said.

The Cardinal is the highest-ranking Vatican official to face allegations of sexual abuse, which have plagued the Catholic Church for decades.

He has taken a leave of absence from the Vatican to defend himself at Melbourne Magistrates Court this month.

Australia’s Victoria police have not released a list of charges against the Cardinal nor disclosed any information about alleged victims. Authorities only said that there were multiple charges and “multiple complainants” from decades ago when he was a senior cleric in Australia.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said in statement on Monday that Pell’s return to Australia “should not be a surprise” as he had said last month when he was informed of the alleged offenses that he would return to Australia to “vigorously defend himself.”

“Cardinal Pell will not be making further comment other than to say he is grateful for the numerous messages of support he continues to receive.”

Pell served as the Archbishop for Sydney and Melbourne before becoming the Vatican’s economy minister in 2014.

He has vehemently denied the sex-abuse allegations.

“I’m innocent of these charges; they are false,” Pell said at a news conference in Rome on June 29. “The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

“All along, I have been completely consistent and clear in my total rejection of these allegations. News of these charges strengthens my resolve and court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name,” Pell said.

He is due in a Melbourne court on July 26 for a filing hearing, when a full charge list of the charges against him is expected to be released.

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