Cardinal George Pell arrives in Rome amid Vatican corruption scandal

Cardinal George Pell has stepped foot again in Rome, the same day that anti-money laundering evaluators are paying a visit to the Vatican amid an ongoing financial scandal.

The 79-year-old arrived at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport on a flight from Sydney, and got in a waiting car that did not carry any Vatican number plates.

Pell, who left the Vatican in 2017 to face child sexual abuse charges in Australia, said in April after he was absolved by the High Court that he wanted to return to Rome to clean out his Vatican apartment.

The Vatican didn’t immediately say if Pell would meet with Pope Francis.

The Australian arrived back in Rome the same day that European anti-money laundering evaluators began a periodic visit to the Vatican, and more than five months after he was cleared of child sexual abuse allegations.

Reporters surrounded the Cardinal upon his arrival. Pell said it was “lovely to be back” in Rome but made no other comments. He was also met by angry protesters who shouted comments such as “we hate you”.

The Council of Europe’s Moneyval team will be checking the Vatican’s compliance with international norms to fight money laundering and terror financing.

Pell was attempting to get the Holy See’s finances into order before he was forced to take a leave of absence in 2017 to face historic abuse charges stemming from his time as the archbishop of Melbourne.

The Pope never turned on Pell throughout the court proceedings, keeping his job vacant for two years so as to not prejudge the outcome.

Cardinal George Pell, arrives at Rome’s Fiumicino airport on Wednesday. Photo: EPA/Redazione Telenews

In the meantime, regulators found a mounting financial scandal in the tiny city-state that already has cost a half-dozen people their jobs, including one of the Holy See’s most powerful cardinals, Angelo Becciu.

Pell and Becciu had long clashed over the Australian’s efforts to bring greater transparency and accountability to the Vatican’s balance sheets.

Moneyval has faulted Vatican prosecutors in the past for failing to prosecute many cases despite receiving dozens of suspicious transaction reports from the Vatican’s financial watchdog.

Vatican prosecutors did last year open a corruption investigation into the Holy See’s investment in a London real estate venture, but to date no one has been charged.

The Vatican’s secretariat of state has sunk more than 350 million euros ($A577 million) into the London venture, much of it donations from the faithful.

Tens of millions of euros were paid in fees to Italian businessmen who acted as middlemen in the real estate deal.

Pope Francis preaches during his weekly general audience in the St Damaso courtyard at the Vatican. Photo: Vatican Media/AP

Last week, Pope Francis fired Becciu, the cardinal who helped orchestrate the original deal.

Becciu was the “substitute”, or No. 2 in the Vatican secretariat of state from 2011 to 2018, when Francis made him a cardinal and named him prefect of the Vatican’s saint-making office.

Becciu has defended the London investment as sound and has denied any wrongdoing in it.

He says Francis actually cited an unrelated issue in firing him: allegations that he used 100,000 euros ($A165,000) in Holy See money to make a donation to a charity controlled by his brother.

Becciu and his family have denied wrongdoing.

Pell’s brusque style and aggressive clean-up effort ruffled many feathers within the Vatican old guard, Becciu’s especially.

He recently congratulated Francis after Becciu was sacked.

“I hope the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria,” Pell said in a statement last week, referring to his home state of Victoria, where he was initially convicted.

Pell served 13 months in prison before the High Court acquitted him in April of molesting two choir boys in the late 1990s when he was archbishop of Melbourne.

-with AAP

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