opinion

George Pell is not what a Catholic looks like.

Dressed in scarlet garments, the blood-like red representing his willingness to die for his beliefs, Cardinal George Pell wore his faith as blatantly as he could.

A gold ring adorned the index finger of his right hand, gifted to him by the Pope himself, and kissed by Catholics all over the world who greeted him.

With a zuchetti sitting on the crown of his head, a scarlet hat indicating his willingness to spill blood for his church, Pell asserted himself as not just a Catholic, but as the highest ranking one in Australia.

But we learned on Tuesday that George Pell is not a Catholic at all.

The 77-year-old has been found guilty of five counts of child sex abuse.

He is a man who proclaims himself as one thing and acts as another. A wolf in sheep’s clothing – to use a phrase from the bible.

Pell does not represent the one in five Australian students who attend Catholic schools or the 60,000 teachers who run them. He does not represent the more than five and half million Australians who identify as Catholic – not because they wear a crucifix – but because of how they choose to live their lives.

A Catholic is my grandmother, who buried her husband, her brother and her son, and would speak to God when she found herself crying in the middle of the night.

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A Catholic is my grandfather, who says God found him rather than the other way around, and who thinks the single most important question you can ask yourself is: ‘Am I a good person?’

A Catholic is the teacher who plans liturgies for her Year Three class, the message of which is ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’.

A Catholic is the worker who volunteers their time to Sacred Heart Mission, who feed the homeless, and set up refuges for women in crisis.

It was brave Catholic children and families who have brought down the likes of George Pell, and thousands of others all over the world.

The Catholic Church is responsible for too many morally repugnant acts to count.

But it is worth remembering that the Catholic Church as an institution is something entirely distinct from the faith it represents. As Andrew Collins, a victim of child sex abuse at the hands of the church said, “Sadly, many… will defend the church until they die. They value the institution more than the message”.

And that message, by its very nature, is intensely private.

It’s about what we say to ourselves at 2am when we feel lost, or who we speak to when it feels like no one else is listening.

The essence of what it means to be a Catholic or a Buddhist or a Muslim or an Anglican or a Hindu has nothing to do with the man wearing the hat.

The Catholicism I know is simple. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Give to the less fortunate. Care for the vulnerable.

A man who abuses a child is Godless – even if he had a ring gifted to him by the Pope on his finger when he did it.

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