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Pell, 79, a former high-powered Vatican treasurer, spent more than a year in prison before he was acquitted and freed by Australia's High Court in April © AFP/File / William WEST

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Acquitted Australian Cardinal Pell heading to Rome, says aide

Cardinal George Pell was convicted, then acquitted, of historical child sex abuse charges in Australia © AFP/File / CON CHRONIS

Sydney, Australia, Sep 29 – Cardinal George Pell will return to Rome from Australia for the first time since being jailed — and then acquitted — on child sex abuse charges, an aide said Tuesday.

Katrina Lee, an aide and church spokeswomen, said Pell would fly from Sydney to Rome on a “private visit”, just six months after Australia’s High Court quashed his conviction on charges of molesting two choirboys in the 1990s.

A throng of journalists at Sydney airport saw no sign of the 79-year-old cleric checking in for the few flights leaving the city’s international terminal amid ongoing coronavirus travel restrictions.

But at least one local TV channel said he had been whisked aboard the last evening flight out.

Earlier Tuesday, Lee told AFP he would be travelling to the Italian capital on Tuesday in a “private” capacity.

“He always said he would be going back to Rome at some stage,” she said, while declining to comment on the purpose of his trip.

Under current coronavirus travel restrictions, Australians are barred from leaving the country except for official business or compassionate personal reasons.

It was not immediately clear under what circumstances Pell would have been granted an exception to the ban.

Pell was appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 as an anti-corruption tsar at the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy. He quickly ruffled a lot of feathers.

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His slated return comes less than a week after the downfall of influential Italian cardinal Angelo Becciu, who was pushed out by Pope Francis last week following accusations of embezzlement and nepotism.

Becciu, 72, and six others risk trial in the Vatican on corruption charges, according to the Repubblica daily.

Pell, who has been living in a Sydney seminary since his release from prison, was quick to issue a statement thanking and congratulating the pope following Becciu’s forced resignation.

“Pell clashed in a big way with Becciu. The heart of the matter was two different visions of how Peter’s Pence should be managed,” the Messaggero daily’s expert Franca Giansoldati said.

Peter’s Pence is a yearly collection taken up around the world and destined for the poor.

On Sunday, investigative weekly L’Espresso reported that Becciu gave financier Enrico Crasso, a former Credit Suisse manager, control over millions of euros of Vatican investment funds, including from Peter’s Pence.

Becciu has been linked in particular to a controversial luxury property investment deal in London, with at least some of the money used coming from Peter’s Pence.

Crasso also manages an investment fund — Centurion Global Fund — with links to Swiss banks that are being investigated for money laundering scandals, according to the weekly.

The Vatican invested millions of euros into that fund, which lost money, while Crasso and others made millions in fees, Catholic News Agency said.

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Francis’ surprise decision to not only force Becciu to resign but also strip him of the rights associated with being a cardinal — a rare punishment — came just before a fresh review by Moneyval, according to the Stampa daily.

The anti-money-laundering monitoring body of the Council of Europe, expected in the Vatican this week, is expected to rule whether the Vatican has reformed its finances enough to get onto a “white list” of states that respect international fraud rules.

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