Census data helps Catholic health and social organizations build stronger, more faithful institutions – Catholic Outlook
The 2021 census results revealed a drop in the number of people identifying with Christianity and specifically Catholicism.
Many skeptics of the value of religion have used this decline to push the narrative that has developed around the Catholic Church in recent years, which focuses on its failures rather than its successes.
Critics have often used the issues that have beset the Church to question whether its social contract with Australian society should exist.
However, far from destroying Catholic institutions, the census results reveal a call to action and discernment on the part of ministries such as Catholic health.
Naturally, the results of the 2021 census cannot be laid at the feet of ministries, nor will ministries be a one-size-fits-all solution to issues that damage the public reputation of the Church.
However, as a sector, we must constantly re-evaluate our role in building a stronger and more faithful institution that can bring the message of Christ’s healing to more people.
It is therefore encouraging to report that research recently commissioned by Catholic Health Australia confirms that the Australian community not only recognizes the work of Catholic ministries, but also values it.
The research aimed to find out what people thought of Catholic ministries – in this case, hospitals, aged care facilities, social welfare organizations, schools and universities. He looked at how effectively we meet people’s needs and how we can improve our reputation.
The overwhelming majority of respondents believed that our ministries were a force for good in Australia. This sentiment grew among Catholics, where at least seven in ten people had a positive view of Catholic-run schools, universities, charities and hospitals.
Catholic ministries have played an important role in communities for decades and, in some cases, for more than a century, educating children, caring for the sick, caring for the elderly and helping those in the need. It should come as no surprise that they are valued, given the footprint of the Catholic sector, which is too often overlooked by politicians and commentators.
Almost 6 in 10 people agreed that Catholic health and social organisations, the collective term used to describe our ministries, are trying to make Australia a better place. Again, this positive attitude was higher among Catholics.
However, nearly two-fifths of people do not see their own values reflected in ministries, even though they think they are doing a good job otherwise. It’s stronger among non-Catholics, 46 percent of whom disagree that ministries reflect their values. The timeless truths of the Church, however, cannot necessarily adapt to the feelings of one generation. How Catholic Ministries Continue to Be in the world, but not of the world, will often be a matter to wrestle with as we accomplish our mission.
Politically, those who identified as Coalition supporters tended to view Catholic ministries more favorably than those who leaned towards Progressivism. This is interesting given the largely radical mission of these ministries, rooted in Catholic social teaching of preferential options for the poor, solidarity and human dignity. Indeed, it was St Vincent’s Hospital run by the Sisters of Charity which, in 1984, opened the country’s first HIV/AIDS ward at a time of fear, uncertainty and stigma. These are values one would expect to appeal to a progressive voter, yet too often they are overlooked or sidelined.
Ultimately, however, our ministries should not be seen through the political prism of right and left, but rather through the search for what is true and good.
Our health, aged care and social services do not know who we are treating. This has always been the case. In many cases, Catholic ministries were providing essential care and education to those in need long before the public sector stepped in. This provides church ministries with an ideal opportunity to reach the hearts of those who may be disengaged, disinterested, or disillusioned with the broader Catholic Church. But our mission must be well integrated, focused and well understood by those who work in the sector.
Too often the charge is that the Church and its ministries are privileged, irrelevant or worthless. There is still work to be done on how we continue to give prominence to our faith through ministries. But the census results show that Catholic ministries are still widely appreciated and therefore invite us to think about the greater role we could play.
Brigid Meney is Director of Strategy and Mission for Catholic Health Australia.