Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ former finance minister, is to soon return to the Vatican during an extraordinary economic scandal for the first time since he was cleared of child abuse allegations in Australia five months ago, a church agency said yesterday.
Pell is to fly back to Rome today, CathNews, an information agency of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said, citing “sources close to” Pell.
Pell’s return follows Francis last week firing one of the cardinal’s most powerful opponents, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, over a financial scandal.
Pell was regarded as the third-highest-ranking Vatican official and was attempting to wrestle the Holy See’s opaque finances into order when he returned to Australia in 2017 to clear himself of decades-old allegations of child sex abuse.
Pell became the most senior Catholic to be convicted of child sex abuse crimes. He served 13 months in prison before the High Court of Australia acquitted him in April of molesting two choir boys in the late 1990s when he was archbishop of Melbourne.
In his first television interview after his release, Pell linked his fight against Vatican corruption with his prosecution in Australia.
The interview was conducted in April by Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt, a vocal champion of Pell who reported the news early yesterday of his return to the Vatican.
The Sydney Archdiocese did not respond to The Associated Press’ request for comment on Pell’s plans, but Katrina Lee, Pell’s close friend who is an executive adviser to the archdiocese, told Reuters that “he always intended to return to Rome.”
She confirmed the Herald Sun report, but said she did not know how long Pell was going for or the aim of the trip.
In the television interview, Pell said he did not have evidence of a link, but he suspected that a man who swore he had been sexually abused by Pell as a 13-year-old choirboy had been “used.”
Pell again seemed to hint at a link in a statement on Saturday to the Catholic News Agency in which he “thanked and congratulated” Francis for firing Becciu.
“I hope the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria,” he said, referring to his home state, where he was convicted.
Pell, 79, said in April that he planned to return to Rome when the COVID-19 pandemic allowed him to pack up his apartment, but he intended to make Sydney his home.
Becciu said he was fired after Francis told him that documents from the Italian financial police alleged that he had embezzled 100,000 euros (US$116,200).
Becciu, the 72-year-old former No. 2 in the Vatican’s secretariat of state, denied any wrongdoing.
Becciu’s name had previously been caught up in a whirlwind financial scandal involving the Holy See’s investment in a London real- estate venture.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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