Cardinal George Pell returns to Australia to face abuse charges

The cardinal who was charged with alleged sex crimes last month will appear in a Melbourne court on July 26.

Photo by: Reuters File Photo
Photo by: Reuters File Photo

Australian Cardinal George Pell holds a candle as Pope Francis leads the Easter vigil mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, April 15, 2017. (File photo)

Updated Jul 10, 2017

Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell arrived back in Australia on Monday ahead of a court appearance later this month over historical sex abuse charges.

The 76-year-old touched down in Sydney and was met by security before being whisked away in a waiting car, Channel Nine Vision showed. He made no comment.

Pell has been ordered to face a Melbourne court on July 26 for a preliminary hearing on multiple sexual assault charges related to offences allegedly committed decades ago, when he was a senior cleric in Australia.

Police did not detail the charges or specify the ages of the alleged victims or the period when the crimes were alleged to have occurred.

He has been granted a leave of absence by Pope Francis, who made clear the cardinal would not be forced to resign his post as head of the Vatican's powerful economic ministry.

The charges coincided with the final stages of Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, ordered in 2012 after a decade of pressure to investigate widespread allegations of institutional paedophilia.

The commission has spoken to thousands of survivors and heard claims of child abuse involving churches, orphanages, sporting clubs, youth groups and schools.

Pell appeared before the commission three times, once in person and twice via video-link from Rome. In one hearing, he admitted that he "mucked up" in dealing with paedophile priests in Victoria state in the 1970s.

Pell's Australian lawyer could not be reached by telephone and did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

TRTWorld and agencies