News National ‘Disrespectful’ John Howard, Tony Abbott slammed on Q&A

‘Disrespectful’ John Howard, Tony Abbott slammed on Q&A

tony abbott john howard pell
Both Mr Abbott and Mr Howard have been publc supporters of Pell. Photo: AAP
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Former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott have been accused of disrespecting victims over their public support for convicted sex offender George Pell.

Pell, the highest ranked Catholic in Australia and former Vatican treasurer, was convicted last week on five charges of sexually abusing two boys in the 1990s.

Longtime prime minister Mr Howard, was one of 10 people to write a character reference for Pell, tabled in court last Wednesday, after learning of his conviction.

Mr Abbott described Pell’s conviction as “devastating” shortly after the guilty verdict was delivered, admitting he phoned his friend to offer support.

Labor Senator Kristina Keneally was asked on an emotion-charged ABC Q&A program on Monday night if she thought media coverage of the disgraced Cardinal’s trial and his support from high-profile Australians could have placed undue influence on the courts.

Senator Keneally was met with loud applause when she slammed the former prime ministers for casting doubt on the jury’s verdict.

“I’m quite surprised and distressed that people like John Howard and Tony Abbott – particularly Mr Howard – are running this type of commentary and providing support publicly for Cardinal Pell following his conviction. I think it’s disrespectful of the jury verdict,” she said.

Senator Keneally said the public support was also disrespectful to victims.

“The main reason victims often fail to come forward is because they don’t think they’re going to be believed,” she said.

“What do we have here? We have had a legal process, due process, a trial, a jury has rendered a decision and now we have people out there casting doubt on that decision.”

Pell’s lawyer has indicated his client will appeal his conviction.

As well as the former prime ministers, Pell has attracted support from numerous sympathetic media commentators.

On Monday, Mr Abbott told Sydney’s 2GB radio that while he respected the jury’s guilty verdict, he would never be a “fair weather friend” to the clergyman.

Francis Sullivan, Catholic lay leader and former head of the church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, said abuse victims had been silenced in the past.

“For too long in the Catholic Church, people who were abused weren’t believed,” Mr Sullivan said.

“They were actively silenced. The weight and might of the church either negotiated them away, disregarded them, told them to go home and left them to a life of peril, a life of misery,” he added.

“And as we know most people who have been abused in the Catholic Church have told nobody and lived lives of real misery. So, as far as I’m concerned, everyone should just shut up.”

US Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a frequent traveller to Australia, said the country was “traumatised” by Pell’s conviction and the revelation of his crimes.

“As someone who has visited Australia for three decades, I think the country is deeply traumatised by this story. In a way that no-one has fully recognising,” Mr Boteach said.

“Here you have one of the most famous Australians in the world, a global religious states person who is the most senior religious figure in the country being accused or convicted now of unspeakable crimes.”

Albert Morris, 94, prompted loud support from fellow-audience members when he described celibacy in the Catholic Church as “unnatural”.

Mr Sullivan said even though celibacy “doesn’t cause the sexual abuse of children, it is a significant contributing factor”.

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