Cafeteria Catholicism, Part I: Preface

Since the first time I heard the term "Cafeteria Catholic," I've fought aggressively against its use. I consider the term to be ambiguous, superficial, condescending, and an ad hominem argument for Traditionalist Catholics. I've made it a personal mission to rid the world of this nonsense. Unfortunately, my crusade is slow-going.

For those not familiar, a Cafeteria Catholic is a label given to people who either disagree or do not practice the entire doctrine of the Catholic Church. The implication is that these Catholics "pick and choose" which doctrine to follow, and therefore are not Catholic at all. A more in-depth explanation can be found here.

The term Cafeteria Catholic sprang into being after the Humanae Vitae was issued by Pope Paul VI in 1968, when many Catholics found it hard to understand the church's stance against contraception. (source) Today, the term is used to include anyone who disagrees with established Catholic doctrine. Issues that are often associated with the Cafeteria Catholic are:

  • abortion
  • contraception
  • priest ordination (proponents for female priests or married priests)
  • homosexuality
  • capital punishment

While continuing my journey of faith, I see the term used more and more, especially when debating Catholic Theology. Sadly, the term is used mostly by those that consider themselves orthodox, or in line with the teachings of Rome. In a discussion via email, I spoke with an orthodox (which I will now refer to as conservative, for reasons I'll explain later) Catholic regarding the use of the term Cafeteria Catholic:


On the contrary, what I think "Cafeteria Catholicism" does is rather stylistically describe a certain popular heresy that believes a Catholic can believe anything he wants. It is therefore not judgmentallism [sic] but right judgment and a work of spiritual mercy to call attention to this heresy.

A divine edict for name-calling, huh? I have to believe God is more mature than that.

For the next month or so, I will show how the term Cafeteria Catholic is in fact not Orthodox, but that it's use is derogatory, prideful, ignorant, and divisive. Name-calling or "calling a spade a spade" is not a work of spiritual mercy, but the act of a contemptuous dogmatist who wishes to assert their exactitude, hoping that being right will bring them closer to God's grace. I intend to show how the use of the term goes against the teachings of Christ and the Church; I guess the "I'm rubber and you're glue..." argument really holds merit.

I doubt I'll change the world with this series of blogs. More than likely, it'll just stir up the pre vs. post Vatican II debate, which is not my intention. It's my hope that people will see how we're actually hurting our own faith by dividing the faithful, and perhaps think twice before using the term again.

Besides, I'm sure Jesus had a few choice words about how we should treat each other...


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1 Response to Cafeteria Catholicism, Part I: Preface

December 9, 2007 at 1:08 PM

I look forward to reading your other posts on this, and I'll continue reading your blog.

I'm one of those "Cafeteria Catholics" and I just wrote my own thoughts about this on my blog. I'd be curious to know what you think.

And God bless you on your vocation!