Tony Abbott Has Refused To Withdraw Support For His “Friend” George Pell

"I absolutely accept that this is a shocking result, a devastating result, but it is subject to appeal."

Tony Abbott refuses to withdraw support for George Pell

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Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has given a deeply uncomfortable radio interview in which he repeatedly turned down opportunities to withdraw his support for convicted paedophile George Pell, before reluctantly admitting he spoke to the cardinal shortly after his conviction was made public.

Warning: this article discusses sexual and child abuse. 

Cardinal George Pell, the highest ranking Australian in the Catholic church, was convicted in December of orally raping a 13 year old choir boy and molesting another in Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 and 1997.

The media was previously unable to report on the conviction due to a suppression order designed to protect the integrity of a second trial relating to allegations that Pell abused boys in a swimming pool in Ballarat in the 1970s. The suppression order was lifted on Tuesday after prosecutors decided not to go ahead with the second trial due to a lack of admissable evidence.

Pell spent last night in jail after his lawyer withdrew a bail application. The cardinal is appealing the conviction.

Abbott, a committed Catholic who has previously described Pell as a “fine man” and “one of the greatest churchmen Australia has ever seen”, spoke to 2GB radio host Ben Fordham about the case on Wednesday. He said he was willing to accept the cardinal had been found guilty of “a horrible crime” before pointing out — repeatedly — that Pell was appealing.

“It is going on appeal, and let’s see what the appeal court ultimately decides,” said Abbott. “I absolutely accept that this is a shocking result, a devastating result, but it is subject to appeal.”

“Shocking and devastating for whom?” Fordham asked.

“Certainly for the friends of Cardinal Pell, and as you say I am one,” Abbott replied. “Devastating for all who believe in the Catholic Church, and I’m also one of those”.

“This is a grim time, no doubt about that, but I also have faith in our system of justice and let’s see what the system of justice ultimately produces,” he said.

Asked whether he could accept that Pell had been found guilty of being a paedophile, Abbott said “that’s what the system says, correct”, before adding that “it certainly doesn’t sound consistent with the man I have known”.

The former Prime Minister refused to say whether he would still consider Pell a friend should his appeal be unsuccessful, dismissing the question as “hypothetical” and insisting that “there is a process which is yet to be finalised”.

He also repeatedly dodged a question about when he had last spoken to Pell, before finally admitting he called the cardinal on Tuesday after the verdict was made public. He would not reveal what they spoke about.

You can listen to the full interview below.

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