The Catholic Church


Homework # 8


March 2, 2004


SYA 4310


I chose to research the Catholic Church for my participant observation. I decided to study this group because my best friend is Catholic and I was always interested in her religion. I believe that the Catholic Church is deserving of a sociological study because within that religion there is an underlying theme of patriarchy. Traditionally, women have been unable to hold clergy positions and their role within the church is diminished. The patriarchal nature of this religion might not be accepted by young women. I hypothesize that men’s dominant role within the Catholic religion will diminish the attendance of younger women congregates.


The methodology I will be using is participant observation. This methodology is appropriate because I can observe the group as a whole instead of asking one volunteer to represent this subculture. I felt that my hypothesis will be proven according to what I observe in this particular situation. The sampling strategy that I felt most suitable is representative. Since it would be impossible for me to visit all the Catholic Churches in the country, I chose to study St Jude because it was the closest church to my house and can be used to represent the entire Catholic religion. The independent variable in my research is men’s dominant role within the Catholic religion and the dependent variable is the diminishing attendance of younger women congregates. On Sunday February 29, 2004 I attended the twelve o’clock mass held at St. Jude Catholic Church in Boca Raton, Florida. The mass was fairly crowded with about 200 people in attendance. I sat in the back so I could make note of the details to which my study relied on. My first observation was that many of the congregates were white, upper middle class. Some people came with their children, others were alone, but the majority of the congregates were older women either by themselves or with a spouse. They held rosaries and prayed along with every word the priest said.


The most striking thing I noticed about the people in attendance was that most of them were older women. I would attribute that to the fact that younger women might feel slighted and unrepresented by the patriarchal aspect of the religion. Many younger women today hold a feminist awareness and may find the subservient role of women to be uncomfortable and old fashioned. They see these strict rules and traditions as barriers to what they can achieve. The active participants in the service were primarily all men (priests, ushers, alter boys). The iconography of the church exhibited that males were held in the highest regard and they were the ones represented the most in the statues. This tells the congregates that men are the most important figures and are worthy of their worship. In addition, the priest made several remarks about women’s duties as a wife and mother.


In conclusion, I feel as though my hypothesis was confirmed. Most people in attendance were older women and I would argue that this is directly related to the patriarchal structure of the Catholic Church, including its participatory role of women, iconography and religious doctrine. If I was to advise further researchers I would recommend that they attend more than one service in various neighborhoods. I would also recommend that they are not affiliated with that religious background so that they can approach it from an objective standpoint.