Tony Abbott has declared he will never be a “fair weather friend” but conceded that he respects the court and that George Pell’s child rape conviction is a damning verdict.
Broadcaster Ray Hadley has challenged the former prime minister on his decision to call Pell after the verdict, saying it showed poor judgement.
“There’s a verdict that’s been delivered, a damning verdict against a friend of mine. It is subject to appeal, but I absolutely accept the courts and their judgements are the best means we have of coming to the truth,” Mr Abbott told Sydney radio 2GB on Monday.
“You’re absolutely correct. It was a unanimous conviction.”
Mr Hadley told Mr Abbott he had no issue with people providing character references, but the decision of former prime minister John Howard to provide one for Pell, after the verdict, went well beyond the norm.
“You don’t get references provided by a former PM, portraying someone as a saint, given he’s just been convicted of pedophilia,” Hadley said.
“I consider it to be a gushing reference, given it was for a convicted pedophile. It appeared to me that the victim and the victims of other pedophiles were not given a voice.”
Mr Abbott said he accepted that the circumstances were unusual but said the public trial of such a senior Catholic leader was also unprecedented.
“This is a fair point, Ray. But it’s very unusual for someone of Cardinal Pell’s seniority and substance to be on trial like this,” he said.
“As you well know, there’s a sense the church has been on trial.”
Mr Abbott was also asked if he had been asked to provide a character reference. He said he had “no recall” of that.
“I honestly don’t know whether I was asked to provide a reference or not,” he said.
Mr Abbott had already said he phoned Pell after the verdict became public last week. On Monday, he said he made no apologies for calling a friend in his darkest hour.
“When it comes to the phone call, I’m not a fair-weather friend,” Mr Abbott said.
“This was someone who was obviously going through a very, very bad experience.
“He has been a friend of mine for a long time and at a time like this, you’ve got to feel for people.
“You’ve got to feel for the victims who have been dreadfully betrayed by an institution they should have been able to trust.
“You’ve got to feel for the people who are dismayed at this verdict against someone they put on a pedestal. These are tough times for a lot of people.”