Sunday, August 3, 2014


The Rise of Conservative Cafeteria Catholicism

 My comments first: I've lamented the same thing too since the election of Pope Francis. I've been most disillusioned by so-called "conservative or traditional Catholics" who are in fact just as much "cafeteria Catholics" as any left-winger in the Church. As many of you know, I prefer the terms orthodox and heterodox when describing Catholics compared to conservative and liberal as the latter two words have political connotations beyond Catholicism. 

For example, the bishops' fight to welcome immigrants to this country, especially the children who are arriving here, is very orthodox from the point of view of the Catholic Deposit of Faith (a term heterodox Catholics despise) and our moral teachings on social justice and our pro-life agenda. Conservative Catholics joining the divisions of the politicization of this tragedy are opposed to the efforts of Pope Francis and our bishops when it comes to immigration. In other words in this case the conservatives are the "cafeteria Catholics" and are siding with politicians on the right, normally in the Republican party, and thus are heterodox in their opposition to the Pope and bishops as it concerns the plight of immigrants. 

But neo-conservative/traditionalists who are very heterodox Catholics, are sometimes very disrespectful to the pope and the bishops when politics trumps the Deposit of Faith and the Church's moral teachings in the areas of respect for the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception through natural death as well as the Church's splendid social teachings. I think Father Dwight Longenecker hits the nail on the head in his recent blog post which I copy below!:

July 31, 2014 by

When Benedict XVI and John Paul II were pope the conservative Catholics loved to throw around the phrase “cafeteria Catholic” as a term of derision.

It’s a name I used a fair bit to parody those Catholics who would pick and choose what bits of Catholicism they liked and rejected the bits they didn’t like. The “cafeteria Catholic” was a liberal who picked peace and justice issues but was silent on abortion. The “cafeteria Catholic” picked up on the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper but declined the idea the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Cafeteria Catholics liked the authority of the individual conscience but put Humanae Vitae on one side. They chose ecumenism but turned up their nose at Catholic exclusivism. They were all for “we are church” and rejected any form of hierarchy.

Isn’t it interesting how the shoe is on the other foot?

Now with Pope Francis the cafeteria Catholics are the conservatives. They splutter and fume at Pope Francis. He’s the pope, but they disagree with him about this and reject his words about that just as avidly and with as much fervor as the liberals used to reject Pope Benedict. They pick him to pieces, refuse to give him the benefit of the doubt and paint him as a terrible pope—just like the liberals did with Benedict. The liberals thought Benedict was a bad and inadequate pope. Ditto the conservatives with Francis.

The liberals were disrespectful and referred to Benedict as “Nazi Ratzi” and “the Enforcer”. Now the conservatives call Pope Francis “Casual Frank”, “Mr Bergoglio” or “The Unholy Father.” The liberal cafeteria Catholics had their theological arguments. They quoted this church document or that theologian. The conservatives either reject the Second Vatican Council altogether or they “correct” it by pulling up quotes from this Pope who condemned all heretics or that Council that rained down anathemas.

The conservatives liked to call the liberals “Protestants” because they were trying to make the church just as they wanted it. Now they’re doing the same. They didn’t like when the liberals grumbled and dissented against Pope Benedict. Now they grumble and dissent against Pope Francis.

Is it okay to criticize a pope? Sure. I’ve criticized Pope Francis–so much so that I’ve been called ” a fierce critic of Pope Francis.”

However, what I sense among some conservative Catholics is not only a growing dislike of Pope Francis, but a very unpleasant and self righteous hatred of him, and any attempt to put the Pope into context, explain the wider implications, praise Francis or unlock his gift to the church is met with cynicism, scorn and ridicule.

When Benedict was Pope the conservatives wanted the liberals to listen and learn from Benedict. They wanted the liberal cafeteria Catholics to take on the whole of the Catholic faith and submit to the authority of the rightful pope.

Now with Pope Francis they find it rather difficult to listen and learn.

Where did I put that dictionary of literary terms? I want to look up “irony”

Don’t forget my article Ten Things to Remember if Pope Francis Upsets You.


Gene said...

CCC says to obey the laws of your country. Illegal immigrants and those that support and harbor them, including the Church, are breaking the laws of this nation and endangering the welfare of law abiding citizens by encouraging the importation of disease, violence, and law breakers. Not only is this illegal, it is monumentally stupid and will only serve to harm everyone, including the Church, in the long run. Obama, the Left, and their minions are cynically bringing in children in order to play upon the sensitivities of women, Priests, and other easily manipulate people. The Church is essentially supporting an attack upon the country and its values and behaving in a most political way. There was even an article in one of the political sheets the other day about the "Pope as the Obama of the Catholic Church."

Pater Ignotus said...

The CCC also says, "2211 The political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially: ... the right to private property, to free enterprise, to obtain work and housing, and the right to emigrate;..."

Feeding and housing those who are homeless and hungry, especially children, is only a "crime" to those who are deeply afraid of losing some material possession.

Housing the homeless and feeding the hungry, especially children, is only "monumentally stupid" to those who are scared to death by the changes in the world over which they have no control whatsoever.

Calling housing the homeless and feeding the hungry, especially children, "an attack upon the country" is, itself, a political statement, one that reflects an ignorance of the values, not of the country, but of the Gospels and the Church.

Rood Screen said...

As for terminology, whenever there is room for debate about purely disciplinary concerns, perhaps we can speak of "conservative" and "liberal" approaches. But when it comes to the truth about faith and morals, a Catholic is either "faithful" or "unfaithful" to the Apostolic Tradition.

What gets tricky is the area of prudential judgement, in which we must apply the Apostolic Tradition to questions of justice, economics or armed conflict. The pope and bishops render a pastoral opinion, which carries considerable weight, but each Catholic must then sincerely consider what the Sacred Pastors say, and arrive at his own conclusions, placing the Gospel over any political or national loyalties.

Gene said...

Where does the CCC say it is ok to support defying the laws of the country? Feeding the homeless and hungry is fine…as long as they are noir breaking the laws of the nation. Housing them is fine, too…but, the illegals are taking food from the mouths of our "legal" homeless and poor. Condoning law breakers and watering down the values of the country undermines the very values and ideals that are the basis for Western civilization, particularly the Catholic Church, which never would have survived without those Western, Judaeo-Christian values and the considerable sacrifice and bloodshed of those who fought for they Church and that civilization. It is difficult to discuss things with you, Ignotus, because Fr. will not allow me to use the terms which most accurately describe you.
Although those terms are slang and colloquialisms, they are the only ones which are properly dismissive of your ilk.

TLW said...

Amen Pater Ignotus. Politics, not faith, is what informs the consciences of too many Catholics. Personally I think the biggest reason why there is such a visceral reaction to Pope Francis is because he won't allow us to remain stagnant in our faith. We have Catholics who are analogous to the fundamentalists who believe that once they are "saved" they need not do more to earn eternal life. Then along comes Pope Francis to shake them out of the hammock and suddenly it's acceptable to mock the pope.

Last week Archbishop Chaput asked his Facebook followers to petition the governor of Pennsylvania to commute the death sentence of a prisoner scheduled for execution. You might have thought he asked them to dance with the devil from the responses he got. Hypocritical doesn't even begin to describe our brethren on the right as well as the left when it comes to making the more difficult but morally and theologically correct decisions on matters of life and liberty for all God's people, not just the ones we like.

rcg said...

The intersection of these arguments is that the law, and further sin, is not encouraged or propagated. Gene's pout is that the children are being used as human political shields for another sin. PI's point is that the children are, to some degree, victims and not the perpetrators of the sin.

Likewise AB Chaput's concern for commutation of the death penalty must absolutely be merged with the guarantee that the prison is never released with the capacity to harm again. I got that last bit from John Paul II.

The problem that those of us with a traditional bent have with social justice is summarized above: we are often led to side with the sinner in his sin, we are end with that forgiveness as endorsement of the crime and its fruits. We know that there is a another answer and will not cede the position until it is clarified that compassion, charity, and forgiveness are not endorsement of or blindness to sin.

Carol H. said...

"The political community has a duty to honor the family..."

The best way to honor the family is to send the kids back to their parents.

rcg said...

Carol, be careful what you say. That is where many say they are headed. And it is often the case the parents don't always have the ability, by any sense of the word, to care for their children.

Tevye said...

So, Gene, the homeless guy, seeing that no cars are coming, hobbles on his crutch across the street to the soup kitchen, in the middle of the block, not at the crossing. The guy serving in the soup kitchen sees him through the window. The guy on the crutch comes in. The soup kitchen guy says "Be gone you law defier, you law breaker...there will be no food for you here."

We're voting on Roe v Wade, the law of the land. Can I put you down as an "aye"?

Lex iniusta non est lex. (Guess who said that.)

Gene said...

RCG, I do not care about Mexican parents' ability to care for their children or not. It is Mexico's problem. We have plenty of parents here who will not care for their children. We do not need to import other countries' problems.

Gene said...

RCG, I do not care about Mexican parents' ability to care for their children or not. It is Mexico's problem. We have plenty of parents here who will not care for their children. We do not need to import other countries' problems.

Anonymous 2 said...


Here are the official government statistics regarding the unauthorized immigrant population as of January 1, 2011.

This document analyses the flows historically. Here is a critical paragraph:

"Of the 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants in 2011, 1.6 million (14 percent) entered the United States on January 1, 2005 or later (see Table 1). Larger numbers came during 2000-2004 (3.3 million or 29 percent) and 1995–1999 (3.0 million or 26 percent). Fewer came between 1990–1994 (1.6 million or 14 percent) or in the 1980s (1.9 million or 17 percent).”

So, the largest flows were during Clinton’s second term and Bush’s first term. Compared with those numbers, the mothers and children coming over the border now (many to claim asylum under the law, which they are legally entitled to do) is a drop in the bucket.

What I want to know is: Did you squawk back then, or was it okay because that type of illegal immigration was good for business (there is no question that it was, and still is) and/or because, during 2000-04, Bush was president? If you did, fine. If you didn’t, why didn’t you? One reason might be because no-one cared – remember how Lou Dobbs tried to draw people’s attention to the border issue during the first Bush presidency? Some of us were paying attention, most were not. To politicize this issue now, with these children/teenagers and to call it an invasion and engage in tortured conspiracy thinking is laughable. The invasion has already happened. Just look at the numbers.

Obama is more aggressive in deporting than either Bush or Clinton. We need to fix the system. We need comprehensive immigration reform. It is time for politicians (and their true believer ideological supporters) of all stripes to grow up and behave like adults. I am not holding my breath.

Anonymous said...

CCC 1899 tells us those who resist the civil authority God has placed upon us, resist God and will incur judgement.

So, like protestants we can all find passages in the CCC which support our certain viewpoint: social, political and economic.

The Church must help those in need, if the government will let them. The Church must also speak out against the abuse of those used by those in the government to further a political agenda. And what is happening on the border is generated by politics in the US, Mexico and the Central American countries.

This country has laws. The Church can work to change those laws if they contradict God's law. Can we break laws we do not like? Seems some protestants back in the 80's and 90's killed abortionist to protect children. Two wrongs does not make a right.

The Church should feed them, provide medical care and most importantly spiritual care. If they stay they stay according to the laws of this country. If they go, they go according to the laws of this country.

Are these beautiful children a danger to this country? According to media reports, ie FOX, CNN etc, there are many many, far too many that have TB and other sickness. Are they a strain on the local and federal economies. Yes.

Legal emigration and the right to emigrate should be supported. Far too many illegals die trying to sneak into the country.

I also support prison time and punishment fines on businesses that hire illegals.

As to ArchBishop Chaput request and the reaction. The CCC teaches catholics can not support abortion. The death penalty, while the Church opposes it, each catholic is left to his or her conscience concerning it. The terrible response to the Arch bishops request are wrong. Sadly our culture has crumbled to new lows. Far too many of us have succumbed to the tactics of the political left is personal attacks and name calling.

I pray for the end of the death penalty, but understand for some crimes God and State set a punishment of death. I pray for the day we don't need such a penalty because we all live as Christ lives. As long as we are human, there will be those of us who are evil and do evil things that require a terrible punishment.


Pater Ignotus said...

From the USCCB website:

"The Catholic Catechism instructs the faithful that good government has two duties, both of which must be carried out and neither of which can be ignored. The first duty is to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person. Persons have the right to immigrate and thus government must accommodate this right to the greatest extent possible, especially financially blessed nations: "The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him." Catholic Catechism, 2241.

The second duty is to secure one’s border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good. Sovereign nations have the right to enforce their laws and all persons must respect the legitimate exercise of this right: "Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens." Catholic Catechism, 2241.

In January 2003, the U.S. Catholic Bishops released a pastoral letter on migration entitled, "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope." In their letter, the Bishops stressed that, "[w]hen persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right." No. 35. The Bishops made clear that the "[m]ore powerful economic nations…have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows." No. 36.

Carol H. said...


I say this because my family sponsor's a boy named Alexander in the San Pedro project in Guatemala. His parents are dead, and his siblings and he live with their grandmother.

This type of sponsorship, and the schooling it provides, is the best solution to the problem. The support of human trafficking is not.

Anonymous 2 said...

Thank you for posting this article, Father McDonald. I could not have said it better myself. Indeed, I have tried to say it on numerous occasions, although much less artfully. I hope people will also read the other article by the author linked at the end about the Ten Things to Remember.

Pater Ignotus said...

rcg - I have every bit as "traditional" a bent as you.

If you want to take a "traditionalist" swerve - and traditional and traditionalist are not the same thing - then that's another thing altogether.

Pater Ignotus said...

George said...

I know this seems obvious, but would anyone disagree that those Catholics who attend Sunday Mass are more faithful to the Church and Her teachings than those who attend infrequently or not at all? Could it be said that those who attend daily are the most faithful of all? TLW, you say that " Politics, not faith, is what informs the consciences of too many Catholics." One's politics should be informed both by one's faith and conscience (both correctly formed). Now every poll I have seen on this shows that the most faithful Catholics are the most conservative in their politics. There are always exceptions, but for the most part this is true. So for instance, in the last presidential election, Mr Obama lost by over 25 points to those who attend Mass weekly and/or daily.

Catholic Advocate has a scorecard on how Catholic members of Congress voted on issues of importance to Catholic voters. Catholic Republicans, who tend to be the more conservative, vote with Church teaching at a much higher rate than Catholic Democrats.

U.S. Senate Number Voted with Church teaching?

Catholic Democrats 15 3%

Catholic Republicans 9 94%

Hous of Representatives:

Catholic Democrats 65 6%

Catholic Republicans 63 98%

The Catholic Advocate voter guide includes the following issues

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide
The Death Penalty
Defense & Terrorism
Marriage & the Family
Economic Issues
Health Care
Religious Liberty
The Environment

"However, what I sense among some conservative Catholics is not only a growing dislike of Pope Francis, but a very unpleasant and self righteous hatred of him."
Fr. Macdonald, what you say above applies to only a small number of conservative Catholics (I would hope). If a person hates Pope Francis,can it be said that of that person that they are truly Catholic?

George said...

The immigration situation is something which cries out for a solution. it is a complex problem. We have men women and children leaving Catholic countries coming into a Protestant country. Since there is only 25% weekly mass attendance and Protestants are leaving their ecclesial communities in large numbers, I could say they are coming into a non-Christian country. So our basically functionally non -Christian country is doing what no Catholic country (although what country is still Catholic?) has done which is to allow millions of undocumented foreigners to come in and freely reside and work here . They then send money back to their own countries. I don't blame them for all this. The Catholic church didn't create this situation. It is trying to deal with this crisis in a humanitarian and Christian way. Both our Federal government and the governments of Mexico and Central America have acted irresponsibly. How many young women trying to make the journey to get up to our country have been forced into prostitution? How many others male and female have been left to wander and die by their smugglers? How many criminals have left their countries and committed illegal acts here? We need to pray that a just fair and responsible solution is found and not one which is politically expedient.

Православный физик said...

The issue is that it is perceived by some that issues of prudential judgement are treated with a near dogmatic status. (e.g: Immigration, Israel/Palestine conflict, death penalty, etc) by the USCCB, and when someone comes out and gives a different opinion, they're ostracized against (e.g: Santorum dissenting from the USCCB official position on Immigration)

Fr JBS is absolutely right that we need to use the Apostolic Faith to come to a conclusion with a well informed conscience with the mind of the Church.

I don't think it's being a cafeteria Catholic to disagree with a prudential judgment of our Bishops or even the Pope. It is so if we do not accept a dogmatic teaching of the Church, then indeed one is being a cafeteria Catholic.

Yes, there are some that "hate" Pope Francis, but I can't help but think there are some things that the Pope has done that have not helped himself to be hated. I imagine that there are people really trying to like this Pope, but it's difficult when he answers objective questions in terms of a subjective situation, the various problematic statements that have been said. I happen to like when the Pope prepares his statements and does not speak off the cuff, then there aren't issues....when he's speaking off the cuff, there are huge problems. I can't say I'm a "fan" of Pope Francis, but I'm praying for him

Cameron said...

Any way you slice it, I've personally not seen a single case of a trad going off the rails even since Francis has been Pope in terms of going schismatic or even denying anything that may not be denied. However, the lefties do it constantly, did it under Benedict, and continue to deny basic, fundamental, granular aspects of the Christian faith.

Trads have their disrespect problems, no doubt, but at least they aren't chomping at the bit for fundamentally evil/perverse things. How can you even begin to compare?

Anonymous 2 said...

Regarding matters of “prudential judgment” as opposed to “dogmatic statements” just how much of the Catechism can we happily ignore then?

Gene said...

Immigration is different from illegally breaking into a country. If someone illegally breaks into my house, I shoot them. If they want to knock on the door and abide by common courtesy and decency and follow the laws of the land, I let them in. This is not rocket science.

Anonymous said...

I think this article is really good, because it gave me something to think about; that is, am I guilty of the kind of cafeteria Catholicism that I often see political liberals practice, only with different issues? So thanks for that. I need to see this about myself, if it's true.
But I really have a question about the children immigrants streaming into our country from the south: What are the bishops in Mexico doing to gather these children in before they reach the U.S. border, and house them and care for them? What are the bishops in their home countries doing to help them and their families so they don't have to leave? So why are they managing to get all the way here and now U.S. bishops call us to care for them? Just wondering.

Anonymous 2 said...

But what if you keep on shutting the door in their face? The vast majority of those who enter illegally have no legal basis to immigrate, or if they do, then not any time soon (and nonimmigrant visas of various kinds are also not an option for most of them).

Just so you have some facts, take a look at the latest Visa Office Bulletin for immigrants who are subject to quotas (immediate relatives of U.S. citizens – spouses, unmarried children under 21, and parents if the citizen is 21 – are not subject to quotas). Notice the permitted categories (and by implication those that are not permitted) and the waiting times. The additional waiting times for some countries, including Mexico, arise because in addition to the worldwide limits on these categories, there is an further annual limit on the total number of legal immigrants in these categories from any one country.

Gene said...

So, then, Anon 2 law professor…that makes it ok to break the law. Cool.

Anonymous 2 said...

Just to be clear, my 11:09 p.m. comment was a response to Gene’s comment at 8:52 p.m.

Pater Ignotus said...

Bee - The bishops in Mexico simply don't have the resources to provide for the needs of the children. The poverty that drives many to migrate north is the situation of most of the Mexican archdioceses and dioceses.

The poverty in much of Mexico is systemic. It originates in a history of corruption, especially in nearly all levels of government. Add to that the traditional oligarchic structure of economics in Mexico, and you have a recipe for poverty, drug smuggling, and illegal border corossing.

Православный физик said...

Anon 2, I wouldn't say that we ignore the catechism on the prudential judgement issues, rather we use our well informed consciences in the mind of the Church to come to a conclusion.

It may happen that we come to a different conclusion than the Bishops' that's okay.

Perhaps though the Bishops' need to stop supporting specific policies

Anonymous 2 said...


I never said it is “ok to break the law.” I was trying to help you understand why those entering the country without authorization do so. One of the major factors is that for so many of them the law provides no avenue to legal admission. So, I was raising an issue of policy. You now have some idea now what the current law is. Then the question becomes: What should the law be? Should the law be reformed and, if so, how – more restrictive, more liberalized, more restrictive in some respects but more liberalized in others? What different moral and policy concerns should be taken into account in making this decision? These are the prospective questions. Retrospectively, the question is: What can and should we do about the 12 million or so unauthorized immigrants already here, most of whom entered during the second Clinton term and the first Bush term?

And everything must begin with guarantees that the current law, whatever it is, will be properly enforced because, if we don’t do that, it makes a mockery of the Rule of Law. And guess who the main lawbreakers are – you guessed it, businesses when they hire unauthorized immigrants. Sorry. Here is a good article explaining the extent of the problem:

Of course, I am so disgusted with our current politics that I suspect this is one major reason politicians have been schizophrenic about immigration. Perhaps I am too cynical but I suspect that politicians often talk a good talk for their bases, but many of their business interests who bribe them (oops, I mean who give them campaign contributions) like being able to hire undocumented immigrants on the cheap, just as businesses like firing U.S. workers and hiring cheap foreign labor when it is overseas in offshore operations. Another major political factor is that politicians seek the Hispanic vote.

So, Gene, when politicians and their supporters stop worshiping Mammon and the Almighty Dollar, as well as their self-interest, and start behaving like adults who care about the common good, perhaps we will get the reform we need. The kids on the border are a red herring.

But as I said in an earlier comment on this thread, I am not holding my breath.

Anonymous 2 said...


So just how much of the CCC are we talking about?

Jen said...

@ Pater 10:14,
For a different, perhaps less simplistic take on the origin of the child refugee crisis, please read the following (not to dispute the obvious poverty factor, of course):

Brian said...

There can be a distinction is the choice of policy ante quem and post quem here -- from a security (and yes, political as well; I *am* human) perspective, I disagree with the policy of allowing for mass unregulated migration across the border like this -- it both serves to destabilize elements of our economy in the medium run AND we end up being unable to track those who have crossed over (the concern is over criminals and such, but there's also the concern of millions of unannounced children who are going to be moving North into the US as winter hits...)

However, we cannot change what has happened, only move forward in policy. Meanwhile, we have actual poverty-stricken human beings -- as much refugees (to refer to our pontiff's intentions for this month) as they are trespassers -- who require some element of pastoral and human aid. We as Catholics can't just leave them to either die in the desert of suffer at the hands of the less scrupulous among "businesspeople" when we have the ability to do something to help particularly the children who have come over with a sense of Reason based on survival instead of any political aspersions.

At the most basic level, the human result of large-scale immigrant influx here is the EFFECT of a political CAUSE that we need to deal with as policy and law -- it's too easy to mental add the two together as if these children are either specifically guilty of a scheme against America or working deliberately with whatever ploy conservatives assume is at play here in Washington. Likewise, too many are conflating which parts of the issue are to be rendered to Caesar and which parts are to rendered to God (a conflation which His Holiness is being cautious not to make)...