More a part than apart, the Catholic community in New Zealand society, 1918-1940 : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History and Religious Studies at Massey University
The Catholic community in New Zealand between 1918 and 1940 maintained a distinct identity while being fully integrated into the wider society, as this investigation of the demography, spirituality, organization, ethics and politics of Catholics demonstrates. While Catholics, one seventh of the total population, were somewhat over-represented among lower socio-economic groups, they were distributed quite evenly throughout the country and retained little of the ethnic identity of the original Catholic immigrants. Religious practices among Catholics followed overseas models, especially in the development of devotional piety and active spirituality, in emphasizing the Eucharist and the liturgy, and in basing lay spirituality on the religious life. Catholic spirituality and its underlying doctrines contrasted sharply with contemporary Protestant beliefs and practices, but while Catholics refused to worship with Protestants, Catholic spirituality was more commonly ignored or respected than criticized by them. In establishing organizations and institutions for charitable, educational, social, cultural and sporting purposes, the Church did not seek to isolate its members from the rest of society but to ensure that they could participate in society without compromising their religious integrity. Catholic associations co-operated with their non-Catholic counterparts and Catholic schools taught the national syllabus while adding religious teaching and observances. The degree of social interaction between Catholics and Protestants is demonstrated by the prevalence of mixed marriages. Catholic views on gender roles, apart from the exaltation of religious celibacy, were similar to those endorsed by the rest of society. The main Protestant churches reassessed their attitudes to ethical issues like birth control and divorce, but retained much in common with the Catholic Church. Despite clerical triumphalism, Catholics, too, restricted the size of their families and were no more opposed to divorce than Protestants were. Relatively liberal Catholic attitudes towards Sunday observance, drinking and gambling were more in keeping with those of responsible secular opinion - and practice - than with the views expressed by Protestant clergy. Intense sectarian strife during and immediately after the First World War was not typical of the period and by the Second World War the Catholic Church enjoyed warm relations with the Government and the main Protestant denominations. Catholics were somewhat divided over Prohibition, but, as in the country at large, most opposed it. The Church was not committed to any political party although Catholic social teaching and the socio-economic status of numerous Catholics led to strong Catholic support for the Labour Party. In this, Catholics shared in a new political consensus during the 1930s. No government could openly give financial assistance to Catholic schools - and some recent concessions were lost during the early 1920s - but indirect aid, especially under the Labour administration, reflected increased acceptance of the Catholic education system. Lack of support by politicians or the public at large for state-endorsed Bible reading in public schools, as demanded by the Bible in Schools League, demonstrated the weakness of the League's assumption that New Zealand was a Protestant country and vindicated Catholic opposition to the League.