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Abbott admits meeting Pell before archbishops' statement

The media is reporting that Sydney's Cardinal George Pell - who has been highly critical of Labor's education policy - met with Liberal frontbencher Tony Abbott days before making this week's joint statement with the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne and the Anglican Archbishops of Sydney and Melbourne.

Mr Abbott told ABC TV's Lateline last night he had met with Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, during the election campaign.

The Archbishops' statement said Labor's policy of redirecting $520 million in funding from Australia's richest private schools to poorer non-government schools was potentially divisive.

The statement was defended by Sydney Catholic Education Office Director Br Kelvin Canavan, but criticised by Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby and Anglican Primate Dr Peter Carnley.

Mr Abbott initially denied the meeting with Cardinal Pell, but recalled the meeting after further prompting from interviewer Tony Jones.

"Actually now that you mentioned it I did meet with Cardinal Pell," Mr Abbott said. "So what? Why shouldn't I meet with Cardinal Pell?

"Cardinal Pell is a fine man. He made a very good statement the other day about the Labor Party's education policy."

Mr Abbott denied he discussed private schools with Cardinal Pell or influenced him to put out his statement.

He said the meeting was personal.

"I may well have been going to confession to Cardinal Pell," he said. "I may well have been seeking pastoral counselling from Cardinal Pell.

"What is so sinister about that?

"Cardinal Pell is one of the greatest churchmen Australia has seen.

"I am a very imperfect Catholic. Why shouldn't I go and seek counsel?"

Abbott met with Cardinal Pell (Daily Telegraph/AAP 30/9/04)

Voters won't buy Medicare Gold, says Abbott (ABC TV Lateline 30/9/04)
Tony Abbott denies having approved of Medicare Gold concept (ABC Radio PM 30/9/04)
Abbott denies urging Pell to criticise Labor schools policy (ABC Regional 30/9/04)
Abbott met with Cardinal Pell (The Australian/AAP 30/9/04)
Same idea was put to Abbott (The Australian 1/10/04)

31 Oct 2004