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23 Oct 2020 16:24
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  •   Home > News > International

    Cardinal George Pell returns to Rome for first time since 2017, purpose of visit remains unclear

    Cardinal George Pell arrives back in Rome for the first time since 2017 when he was accused of child sexual abuse charges that he was later acquitted of.

    Cardinal George Pell has arrived in Rome for the first time since his child sex abuse convictions were quashed.

    The 79-year-old arrived at Rome's Fiumicino airport wearing a surgical mask and was picked up by a car without Vatican licence plates.

    It is his first visit back to Rome after he took a leave of absence in 2017 to face historic sexual abuse charges stemming from his time as the archbishop of Melbourne.

    He was convicted of sexually abusing two choir boys in the 1990s and had served 13 months of his six-year jail sentence when his conviction was overturned by Australia's High Court in April.

    Cardinal Pell maintained his innocence throughout the trial and conviction.

    After arriving in Rome Cardinal Pell was driven close to the Vatican, where he was seen entering a building where he has an apartment.

    Cardinal Pell, who was surrounded by media, said it was "lovely to be back", but did not respond to other questions.

    Reuters reported protesters shouted comments, including "we hate you", at Cardinal Pell

    Members of his team were seen taking his luggage into the building from the car.

    Pell arrives as evaluators hit the Vatican

    Cardinal Pell arrived in Rome on the same day that European anti-money-laundering evaluators began a periodic visit to the Vatican.

    They, too, found a mounting financial scandal in the tiny city-state that already has cost a half-dozen people their jobs, including one of the Holy See's most powerful cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

    Cardinal Pell and Cardinal Becciu had long clashed over the Australian's efforts to bring greater transparency and accountability to the Vatican's balance sheets.

    The Council of Europe's Moneyval team will be checking the Vatican's compliance with international norms to fight money laundering and terror financing.

    Moneyval has generally given the Holy See positive to mixed reviews in its periodic evaluations.

    Its main criticism in recent years has been directed against the Vatican's criminal tribunal, which it faulted for failing to prosecute many cases despite receiving dozens of suspicious transaction reports from the Vatican's financial watchdog.

    Vatican prosecutors last year opened a corruption investigation into the Holy See's investment in a London real estate venture, but to date no one has been indicted.

    The Vatican's secretariat of state has sunk more than 350 million euros (nearly $400 million) into the London venture, much of it donations from the faithful.

    Tens of millions of dollars were paid in fees to Italian businessmen who acted as middlemen in the real estate deal.

    Last week, Pope Francis fired Cardinal Becciu, who had helped to orchestrate the original deal.

    Cardinal Becciu was the "substitute," or Number 2 in the Vatican secretariat of state from 2011 to 2018, when Pope Francis made him a cardinal and named him prefect of the Vatican's saint-making office.

    Cardinal Becciu said Pope Francis cited an unrelated issue in firing him: allegations that he used 100,000 euros ($117,000) in Holy See money to make a donation to a charity controlled by his brother.

    He and his family have denied any wrongdoing.

    Cardinal Pell congratulated the Pope after Cardinal Becciu was sacked.

    "I hope the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria," Cardinal Pell said in a statement last week, referring to his home state of Victoria, where he was initially convicted and served prison time before Australia's High Court absolved him.


    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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