Catholic Church Engagement in Australian Society: A Symbiotic Relationship between "The Religious" and "The Secular"?


  • Joan Daw


The Catholic Church is a major provider of social welfare services in Australian society. Attitudes and practices relating to charitable/welfare activity are, therefore, important indicators of the Church 's engagement in pluralist society. In this paper, data from the 1996 Australian Catholic Church Life Survey, the 2001 National Church Life Survey (Catholic Component), and the 1998 Australian Community Survey are used to examine such indicators. The research shows that charity/welfare is regarded by Catholics as a core function of religion. Moreover, this is shown to tap into two differing orientations: one specifically religious, the other less so. These two orientations are also identified in the provision of welfare services by Catholic organisations in the sense that their mission accords with the first orientation, while service delivery tends to accord with the second. These findings prompt exploration of the possibility of a symbiotic relationship between "the religious" and "the secular" in Catholicism's social engagement.