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Cardianl Pell back in Australia to face abuse charges

© AFP/File | Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell is back in Australia for a court appearance on July 26 over sexual assault charges related to offences allegedly committed decades ago

SYDNEY (AFP) - 

Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell arrived back in Australia on Monday ahead of a court appearance later this month over historical sex abuse charges.

The 76-year-old touched down in Sydney and was met by security before being whisked away in a waiting car, Channel Nine vision showed. He made no comment.

Pell has been ordered to face a Melbourne court on July 26 for a preliminary hearing on multiple sexual assault charges related to offences allegedly committed decades ago, when he was a senior cleric in Australia.

The former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop has always maintained his innocence and strenuously denies the allegations. Details of the charges have not been made public although police said they involved "multiple complainants".

"I am looking forward finally to having my day in court. I am innocent of these charges," Pell, unofficially considered the number three in the Vatican hierarchy, said from Rome after being charged late last month.

"They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me."

He has been granted a leave of absence by Pope Francis, who made clear the cardinal would not be forced to resign his post as head of the Vatican's powerful economic ministry.

The charges coincided with the final stages of Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, ordered in 2012 after a decade of pressure to investigate widespread allegations of institutional paedophilia.

The commission has spoken to thousands of survivors and heard claims of child abuse involving churches, orphanages, sporting clubs, youth groups and schools.

Pell appeared before the commission three times, once in person and twice via video-link from Rome. In one hearing, he admitted that he "mucked up" in dealing with paedophile priests in Victoria state in the 1970s.

© 2017 AFP