Cardinal George Pell, the former Holy See finance czar who left to face child sex abuse charges in Australia, has returned to Rome after his acquittal to find the Vatican mired in a financial corruption scandal.
The 79-year-old arrived at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport on Wednesday after a flight from Sydney wearing a blue surgical mask.
He waved briefly to reporters before getting into a waiting car without making any comments. The car did not carry Vatican licence plates.
It is his first visit back to Rome after he took a leave of absence in 2017 to face historic sexual abuse charges stemming from his time as the archbishop of Melbourne.
Pell, who maintained his innocence throughout, said after he was absolved by Australia's high court that he wanted to clean out his Vatican apartment, but intended to make Sydney his home.
His return comes as European anti-money laundering evaluators begin a periodic visit to the Vatican amid a mounting financial scandal in the city-state that has cost several people their jobs, including one of the Holy See's most powerful cardinals.
For the next two weeks, the Council of Europe's Moneyval team will be checking the Vatican's compliance with international norms to fight money laundering and terror financing.
The Vatican submitted to the Moneyval evaluation process after it signed onto the 2009 EU Monetary Convention and in a bid to shed its image as a financially shady offshore tax haven whose bank has long been embroiled in scandal.
Moneyval's main criticism in recent years has been directed against the Vatican's criminal tribunal, which it has faulted for failing to prosecute many cases despite receiving dozens of suspicious transaction reports from the Vatican's financial watchdog.
Vatican prosecutors last year opened a corruption investigation into the Holy See's investment in a London real estate venture, but to date no one has been indicted.
The Vatican's secretariat of state has sunk more than 350 million euros (nearly $A576 million) into the London venture, much of it donations from the faithful. Tens of millions of dollars were paid in fees to Italian businessmen who acted as middlemen in the real estate deal.
Last week, Pope Francis fired the cardinal who helped orchestrate the deal, Cardinal Angelo Becciu. He was the No. 2 in the Vatican secretariat of state from 2011 to 2018, when Francis made Becciu a cardinal and named him prefect of the Vatican's saint-making office.
Becciu says Francis cited an unrelated issue in firing him: allegations that he used 100,000 euros in Holy See money to make a donation to a charity controlled by his brother.
Becciu and his family have denied wrongdoing.
Becciu had clashed with Cardinal Pell when the Australian was finance czar at the Vatican, brought in by Francis to bring order to the Vatican's opaque finances and impose internationally accepted accounting standards across the bureaucracy.
Pell's brusque style and aggressive clean-up effort ruffled many feathers within the Vatican's old guard, Becciu among them.
Pell congratulated Francis after Becciu was sacked.
"I hope the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria," Pell said, referring to his home state of Victoria, where he was initially convicted before Australia's High Court absolved him.
Australian Associated Press