CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ former finance minister, will 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 Monday.
Pell will fly back to Rome on Tuesday, 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 his native Australia in 2017 to clear himself of decades-old allegations of child sex abuse.
Instead, Pell became the most senior Catholic to be convicted of child sex abuse crimes. He served 13 months in prison before Australia’s High Court 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 newspaper columnist Andrew Bolt, a vocal champion of the cardinal who reported the news early Monday of his return to the Vatican. The Sydney Archdiocese did not respond to a request for comment on Pell’s travel plans, and a woman who answered the phone at the Sydney seminary where Pell lives told The Associated Press: “We have no comment.”
In the 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 last week in which he “thanked and congratulated” Francis for firing Becciu.
“I hope the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria,” Pell said, referring to his home state of Victoria where he was convicted.
Pell, 79, said in April he planned to return to Rome when the coronavirus 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 the 72-year-old cardinal had embezzled 100,000 euros ($116,200). Becciu, the 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.
But Becciu said that investment wasn’t raised in his conversation on Thursday with Francis.