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Cardinal Pell to return to Rome nearly six months after sex abuse aquittal

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
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 William WEST AFP/File
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Sydney (AFP)

Australian Cardinal George Pell will return to Rome Tuesday for the first time since being acquitted of child sexual abuse charges, and just days after a Vatican rival was ousted.

Pell, 79, a former high-powered treasurer tasked by Pope Francis to clean up the Vatican's finances, spent more than a year in prison before he was acquitted and freed by Australia's High Court in April.

He has not been back to Rome since leaving in mid-2017 to face charges of assaulting two choirboys in the late 1990s.

The purpose of the trip was not immediately clear.

Pell's friend Katrina Lee, an executive advisor to the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, told AFP he was 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 told AFP.

Asked if she knew the reason for his trip, Lee said "not completely, but if I did I wouldn't be at liberty to say".

His slated return comes less than a week after the downfall of influential Italian cardinal Angelo Becciu, who was pushed out by Pope Francis Thursday 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.

Anti-virus measures in Australia restrict citizens from leaving the country, and Pell would have needed to obtain a government exemption.

- 'Big clashes' -

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

"In the months before his departure (for Australia)... 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.

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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