SYDNEY (Reuters) – A top Vatican official charged in his native Australia with historical sex crimes arrived in Sydney on Monday ahead of his first court appearance later this month.
Australia’s Nine Entertainment Co Ltd broadcast video of Cardinal George Pell being whisked away from Sydney airport early on Monday morning.
Australian police said late last month Pell, an adviser to Pope Francis, faced multiple charges of “historical sexual offences” from multiple complainants. That makes the Vatican economy minister the highest-ranking Church official to face such accusations.
Pell has declared his innocence and said he would return to Australia to clear his name.
The Sydney Catholic archdiocese said on Monday Pell’s return “should not be a surprise” because he had already said he would return to defend himself against the charges.
It said in a statement Pell “consulted his doctors and on their advice took several days to return home, breaking his journey in a number of places to avoid long-haul flights”.
Pell had said he was too sick to fly home to testify at a government inquiry into child abuse in 2016.
On Sunday, Nine broadcast video of Pell in casual attire with a companion outside an ice cream shop in Singapore. The tourist who took the video told Pell his mother wanted to know if he was innocent.
“Tell her that I am,” Pell said.
Pell is on leave of absence to defend himself and that video marked the first time he had been seen in public outside Rome since police charged him.
He is due to appear in a Melbourne court on July 26.
(Reporting by Wayne Cole and Byron Kaye; Editing by Mary Milliken and Paul Tait)