«Cardinal Pell is a person of both high intelligence and exemplary character. Strength and sincerity have always been features of his personality. I have always found him to be lacking hypocrisy and cant.
«In his chosen vocation he has frequently displayed much courage and held to his values and beliefs, irrespective of the prevailing wisdom of the time.
«Cardinal Pell is a lively conversationalist who maintains a deep and objective interest in contempoary social and political issues. It is my view that he has dedicated his life to his nation and his church.»
Mr Abbott, who previously described Pell as a «fine man» when charges were first laid, refused multiple times to say whether he would remain a friend and supporter of Pell if the conviction were upheld.
A committed Catholic, Mr Abbott said he accepted the verdict of the jury but would await the outcome of the appeal before making any final judgments.
«I absolutely accept that this is a shocking result, a devastating result, but it is subject to appeal,» he told 2GB radio.
Asked by host Ben Fordham to explain whom it was a devastating and shocking result for, Mr Abbott said: «Certainly for the friends of Cardinal Pell, and as you say I am one, 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.
«Yes, he has been convicted, he has been found guilty, and as the Prime Minister said, no one is above the law … but let’s wait and see what the law ultimately produces.»
Mr Abbott said he had discussed the crimes with Pell, including in a phone call they shared on Tuesday following the revelation of the jury’s guilty verdict, which had been under a suppression order by the court since December.
Of the crimes Pell was found to have committed, Mr Abbott said: «It certainly doesn’t sound consistent with the man I have known.»
«Just as the victim said that he wasn’t a spokesman for all victims, I can’t be a spokesman for the Catholic church,» the former prime minister said.
Asked if Pell’s previous treatment of paedophiles – including the notorious priest Gerald Ridsdale – demonstrated that Pell did not take the issue of child sexual abuse seriously, Mr Abbott said he could not be a spokesman for the Catholic church or the cardinal.
«I don’t claim to have the last word in wisdom and insight on any of these issues,» he said.
«I would be the last person to say that anyone has always acted perfectly. I know if I look back on my own life … I’ve made many mistakes, we all do. It’s certainly possible at a time like this to make very harsh judgments about people, I accept that.»
Asked several times whether he would remain a friend of Pell if the conviction is upheld, Mr Abbott said it was a hypothetical question and he would not entertain it.
He said he called Pell on Tuesday following the publication of the verdict, but would not go into the contents of the conversation.
«I spoke to him yesterday. It was a call that I put in to him. Yes, I called him,» Mr Abbott said.
«I accept that there has been a judgment of a court. I accept that there has been a verdict of the jury. I accept that this is a horrific crime. I accept all of that. But there is a process that is yet to be finalised.»
Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.