Losing my religion: after the Pell verdict, the conflict for Catholics

There are a few ways you can lose your religion – in a slow drift where the time between mass attendance and sacraments like confession gets longer and longer, until you can’t in good faith claim to be a member of the flock any more.

And then there’s the frank event, where something happens and you realise you cannot continue supporting the institution that has inflicted so much pain.

For many that moment of breaking off happened with the George Pell verdicts and during the royal commission hearing testimony from survivors of clerical sexual abuse.

Ripple effects of the royal commission and Pell’s trials have spread from beyond survivors to anyone who identifies themselves as Catholic. In Australia, that’s a lot of us – more than 5 million people.

What do those of us – the unmolested but disgusted, confused or defiant – do with our tattered church?

The last rough years for the church in Australia have forced many of us to consider some questions:

  • What does it do to my faith now I know the institution has been protecting paedophile priests and moving them around to other parishes?
  • What does it mean for me as a Catholic if Australia’s highest-ranking priest is in jail for molesting boys?
  • Should I raise my children in the Catholic faith?
  • And do these things that have degraded the church degrade my faith?

The Pell trial has dominated conversations I have had with friends and family members to an astonishing degree over the last 12 months.

Each person has had to accommodate the findings of the royal commission and the Pell verdicts in their own relationship to the Catholic church. Each Catholic has had to have their own private reckoning.

The public narrative playing out – a sort of culture wars narrative between the left and the right – does these private reckonings no justice.

The adjustments and crisis of faith that people have experienced following the verdicts are too subtle, personal and diffuse to fit in a left/right binary.

Among the people I know, a review of a relationship with the Catholic church can throw up responses as diverse as rejecting the finding of the jury and appeal judges – and believing there is a papist conspiracy – to abandoning the church altogether and walking away in disgust.

Without exception I’ve found that if your faith had been smouldering in a half life for a while, the Pell verdicts have been the extinguishing force. Continue reading

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