Cardinal George Pell, who left the Vatican in 2017 to face child sexual abuse charges in Australia, returned to Rome on Wednesday to find a Holy See mired in the type of corruption scandal he worked to expose and clean up.
The 79-year-old Pell arrived at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport on a flight from Sydney wearing a blue surgical mask. He waved briefly to reporters before getting into a waiting car without making any comments.
The trip is his first back to Rome after he took a leave of absence as Pope Francis’ finance czar in 2017 to face historic sexual abuse charges stemming from his time as the archbishop of Melbourne.
After he was absolved by Australia’s High Court in April, Pell said he wanted to return to Rome to clean out his Vatican apartment, but intended to make Sydney his home.
It wasn’t immediately clear how long Pell would remain in the Vatican or what his agenda might involve. The Vatican didn’t immediately say if he would meet with Francis. The pope never turned on Pell throughout the Australian court proceedings, keeping his job vacant for two years so as to not prejudge the outcome.
Pell arrived 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, Angelo Becciu.
Pell and 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.
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