Cardinal Pell arrives in Australia to face sexual offence charges

Cardinal George Pell, number three on the Vatican, arrived Monday in Australia, where it must be heard in two weeks on suspicion of sexual assault. It is convened on 26 July before the court of Melbourne for a preliminary hearing.

Australia's Channel 9 broadcast video of Cardinal George Pell being whisked away from Sydney airport early in the morning.

"He has cooperated in the past with Australian authorities, for example, in his depositions before the royal commission, has supported the pontifical commission for the protection of minors, and finally - as a diocese and bishop in Australia - has introduced systems and procedures both for the protection of minors and to provide assistance to victims of abuse", the Holy See said.

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.

The Australian Federal Police, the NSW Police and private security contractors escorted him from Sydney Airport, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. He did not answer any questions.

"All along, I have been completely consistent and clear in my total rejection of these allegations".

A Vatican spokesman said the Secretariat for the Economy will continue its work during Cardinal Pell's absence.

Pell was a priest in Australia in the '70s and '80s, and is now one of the most powerful cardinals in the Vatican, as NPR's Laurel Walmsey wrote in late June. "At the same time, it's important to recall that Cardinal Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse against minors". "Last year, Pell said he was too ill to make the long flight back to his home country to testify before a government inquiry into how the Catholic Church and other institutions have responded to child sex abuse allegations".

And Pell is no stranger to the scandal.

That investigation found 7% of priests in Australia were accused of abusing children, from 1950 until 2015.

Vanessa Coleman