Belonging: the case of immigrants and the Australian Catholic Church


Noseda, Mary. (2006). Belonging: the case of immigrants and the Australian Catholic Church [Thesis].
AuthorsNoseda, Mary
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The aim of this thesis is to ascertain the extent and nature of belonging to the Australian Catholic Church as experienced by immigrants. This experience of belonging was ascertained through the quantitative study of the National Church Life Survey of 2001 and to a lesser extent the Catholic Church Life Survey of 1996. Both surveys were conducted with attenders at a particular Sunday Eucharist and hence measured the experiences only of Catholics who attend Church. This quantitative study was complemented with a qualitative study of a small group of Vietnamese Catholics who were members of a particular parish. The importance of belonging to a religious tradition is that it provides an aspect of an individual's identity. Identity is many-faceted and formed and reformed in the context of belonging, whether that belonging is to people such as family or to groups of people such as fellow members of a religious tradition. In the process of migration and settlement, the set of primary groups to which an individual belongs is at best disrupted and at worst, lost. Belonging to a religious tradition may provide a constancy of belonging in the immigrant's life when all other aspects of belonging are being renegotiated during settlement in the host country. In the case of the Catholic Church in Australia, there has been some debate about whether or not the Church has been welcoming of immigrants but little testing of immigrants' experience of being welcomed and enabled to belong to the Church. The National Church Life Survey provided a unique opportunity to examine the extent and nature of belonging as experienced by immigrant Catholics. Since all respondents to the survey were asked their birthplace, comparisons could readily be made between the experiences of Australian-born Catholics and those Catholics who were born elsewhere.;Since nearly 3,000 respondents completed surveys in Italian or Vietnamese, comparisons could also be made between these respondents and those who responded to the survey in English. Finally, comparisons were made between the small group of Vietnamese parishioners who engaged in the qualitative research, and other groups of Catholics. The comparisons were made between all the groups on the issue of belonging. In the survey there was a particular question that asked respondents about their experience of belonging, but there were other questions that indicated the nature of belonging of respondents, and these were used in the analysis. The results of the analyses show that on almost all measures, immigrants belong to the Church to a greater extent than Australian-born Catholics. Immigrants attend Sunday Eucharist in greater proportion than Australian born Catholics. Immigrant Catholics participated more in devotional activities, they reported a greater degree of satisfaction with their faith life and they hold more orthodox beliefs than Australian-born Catholics. However, they did participate less in parish roles and groups than did the Australian-born Catholics. Whilst it may be concluded that this participation is limited because of the barrier of language, the results of this research indicate that this is not the only barrier to participation. Even those immigrants who responded to the English language survey did not participate in parish roles and groups to the extent that Australian-born Catholics did. Further research may be able to ascertain whether cultural barriers outside the scope of this work determine the level of participation of immigrants. This research concludes that since the Second World War, Catholic immigrants have 'done the work' of belonging to the Australian Catholic Church. They have done this despite the 'benign neglect' of the Church itself and they represent in fact the Church's 'most Catholic' members.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Arts
Final version
Publication dates06 Jan 2006
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