Cardinal George Pell Returns to Australia, Charged With Sexual Offenses

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SYDNEY, Australia — Cardinal George Pell returned on Monday to his native Australia, where he has been charged with sexual offenses, as a commission released a new trove of documents from its investigation into the Roman Catholic Church’s past response to abuse allegations in the country.

Cardinal Pell, 76, one of the highest-ranking figures in the church’s global hierarchy, was met by the Australian Federal Police at Sydney’s international airport, where his flight from Singapore landed just before 6 a.m. The cardinal had staggered his flights from Rome on his doctors’ advice, a spokesman said.

The cardinal, a close adviser to Pope Francis, has denied the charges against him, which were announced last month by the police in the Australian state of Victoria. Details of the charges have not been made public, except that they are “historical,” meaning that the alleged crimes occurred long ago, and that there are multiple accusers.

Cardinal Pell was charged by summons, meaning he was notified of the charges and ordered to appear in court but was not arrested. He is scheduled to appear in a Melbourne court on July 26.

In a statement Monday, a spokesman said the cardinal’s return to Australia “should not be a surprise.”

“When he was told of the charges by the 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.

At that news conference in Rome last month, Cardinal Pell said he was a victim of “relentless character assassination.” He said, “The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

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Hours after Cardinal Pell’s arrival on Monday, an Australian commission released documents from its continuing investigation into Catholic institutions’ handling of sexual abuse allegations in Australia in recent decades. A spokesman for the panel, the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, said the timing of the release was coincidental.

The release included numerous emails and letters related to specific abuse allegations, with some identifying details redacted. The commission has previously said that from 1980 to 2015, more than 4,000 Australians made allegations of child sexual abuse involving Catholic institutions, and that 7 percent of Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing children from 1950 to 2010.

The commission has faulted Cardinal Pell’s handling of abuse accusations against clergy members when he led the archdiocese of Melbourne, beginning in 1996, and later of Sydney. The cardinal appeared before the commission last year by video link from Rome; he had declined to appear in person on the grounds that the flight from Rome would pose a health risk.

Andrew Collins, a 48-year-old Australian who has said he was abused by members of the clergy as a child, praised the commission’s work on Monday.

“Survivors have been calling for a royal commission for years, simply because we couldn’t get justice,” said Mr. Collins, who has said he was abused by four different men in churches and schools in Ballarat, Cardinal Pell’s hometown. “The first part of justice is to have the past recognized. I think the royal commission has well and truly done that.”

The commission, which began its work in 2013, is scheduled to present a final report to the Australian government in December.

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Anthony Fisher, the archbishop of Sydney, has said that the church will not pay for Cardinal Pell’s legal defense, though he said it would assist with his “accommodation and support.” In 2014, the commission said Catholic orders in Australia had paid tens of millions of Australian dollars in legal fees and settlements on behalf of priests accused of sexual abuse.

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