The most senior Vatican cleric to ever be charged in the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal returned to Australia on Monday to stand trial in his home state on charges alleging he sexually assaulted multiple people years ago. Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis' top financial adviser, avoided waiting media when he arrived at Sydney Airport on a flight from Singapore. The 76-year-old is due to appear in a court in the Victoria state capital, Melbourne, on July 26 on what Victoria Police described as multiple counts of "historical sexual assault offenses"—meaning crimes that generally occurred years ago. There is no statute of limitations on such crimes in Australia, reports the AP. Police said there were multiple complainants, but have released no other details.
Pell is free ahead of his court hearing, during which he can formally apply for bail. When police announced the charges last month, Pell vowed to fight the allegations, saying: "The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me." On Monday, the Sydney archdiocese said the cardinal had made multiple stops on his journey from Rome to Australia to avoid long-haul flights, based on the advice of his doctors. 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. The pope thanked Pell for his "honest" work and collaboration, and said he would wait for Australian justice to run its course before making a judgment himself. (Read more Cardinal George Pell stories.)