Cardinal George Pell has returned to Australia to face historical sexual abuse charges in Melbourne at the end of the month.
The 76-year-old was pictured early on Monday morning leaving Sydney Airport after flying in from the Vatican via Singapore.
Victoria Police on June 30 charged the cardinal, a former Melbourne and Sydney archbishop and Ballarat priest, with multiple sex offences.
Cardinal Pell consulted his doctors before leaving Rome, and on their advice took several days to return in order to avoid long-haul flights, a spokeswoman for the cardinal said on Monday.
“Cardinal Pell will not be making further comment other than to say he is grateful for the numerous messages of support he continues to receive,” the statement said.
The cardinal, a top adviser to Pope Francis, was too ill to travel from Rome to give evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse last year.
“When he was told of the charges by Victoria Police, Cardinal Pell said in Rome he totally rejected the allegations, was completely innocent of the charges and would return to Australia to vigorously defend himself and clear his name,” the statement said.
“His return today then should not be a surprise.”
Australia’s most senior Catholic insists he is innocent and is looking forward to fighting the charges in court.
The cardinal, a top adviser to Pope Francis, has taken leave of absence as the Vatican’s financial chief to fight the charges.
He told reporters in Rome in June that the laying of charges had strengthened his resolve to prove his innocence.
“There has been relentless character assassination,” he told reporters in Rome after the charges were laid.
“I’m looking forward, finally, to having my day in court.
“I’m innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”