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PM calls Pell "man of great integrity"

Prime Minister John Howard has staunchly defended embattled Sydney Archbishop George Pell, describing him as a man of "great integrity".

During a radio interview yesterday, Mr Howard labelled it "quite unfair" to link Dr Pell to the sex crimes of paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale.

"I have always found him to be a person of great intelligence and somebody who I respect enormously," Mr Howard told Adelaide radio station 5DN. "I may not agree with him on everything, I'm not expected to, but I have a great regard for him as a person. I think he's a very dedicated, sincere man.

Mr Howard said the fact Dr Pell had known a perpetrator of child sex offences was not enough to accuse him of a cover-up.

Meanwhile Baptist Union of Australia president Tim Costello said Pell was not engaged in a cover-up of sexual abuse in the church.

"I don't actually think there's been a cover-up," he told the Nine Network. "I think there's been a slow culture change that has actually made us judge what happened years ago by today's standards, and I have to say our standards many years ago were wrong.

"But they weren't just church standards, they were actually across the community."

Mr Costello said he thought it possible that both Dr Pell and the man who raised allegations against him, David Ridsdale, were telling the truth.

"I think it's possible that certainly Archbishop Pell said, 'What do we need to do, how can we help?', and David Ridsdale may have interpreted that as, 'You want to silence me'."

Meanwhile, following claims earlier this week that he had agreed to another interview on Channel 9's 60 Minutes program, Archbishop George Pell has issued a statement indicating that he "firmly refutes" any such suggestion.

"Once bitten, twice shy - I have not agreed to another 60 Minutes interview, nor will I", said Dr Pell.

Pell has described his "ambush" by the Channel 9 program in an interview published in this Sunday's Catholic Leader.

"I agreed to be interviewed by 60 Minutes on the pretext that they wanted to discuss 'matters arising out of the American cardinals' meeting in Rome, the relevance of these issues to the Church in Australia'," he said, "including the Church's ... 1996 initiative, the establishment of an independence commission into sexual abuse."

"I accepted the offer in good faith and in line with the Church's policy of transparency, compassion and positive action in dealing with sexual issues and my polic of always making myself available to the media," Archbishop Pell said.

"I accept the media's role in our society of agenda setting and pursuing stories of public interest.

"What I find unacceptable in 60 Minutes' blatant misrepresentation of their real intentions and the harmful and misleading way in which this story is being promoted."

Victims accept Pell plan as lesser of two offers (Courier-Mail - payment required)
Crucifixion time (Herald-Sun, Opinion, Andrew Bolt - payment required)
Cruel crime complicated by confusion (Daily Telegraph, Opinion - payment required)
PM rejects church sex inquiy (Herald-Sun)
Pedophile turned loose among victims (Herald-Sun)
Loophole makes church untouchable

Daily Telegraph/AAP/Catholic Leader/Royce

6 Jun 2002