The term cafeteria Catholicism is applied to those who assert their Catholic identity yet dissent from Catholic doctrinal or moral teaching or who are viewed as dissenting by those using the term. Examples include Catholics who are accused of dissenting from Church teaching in regards to abortion, birth control, divorce, premarital sex, masturbation, or the moral status of homosexual activities.
Use in print
An early use in print of "cafeteria Catholicism" appears in Fidelity, 1986.
"Cafeteria Catholicism" allows us to pick those "truths" by which we will measure our lives as Catholics. ... "Cafeteria Catholicism" is what happens when the stance of Protagoras, regarding man as the measure of all things, gets religion — but not too much.
— Fidelity, 1986 published by the Wanderer Forum Foundation.
A different distinction, in the term "communal Catholicism" had already been used in 1976.
Use of the term
The term is most often used by conservative Catholics critical of progressive Catholics. It is less frequently applied to those who dissent from other Catholic moral teaching on issues such as social justice, capital punishment, or just war. Conservative Catholics would argue this is because these areas of Catholic teaching are not definitively dogmatically defined by the Magisterium, and therefore not unchanging infallible (from a Catholic standpoint) dogmata. The term has been in use since the issuance of Humanae Vitae, an official document that propounded the Church's opposition to the use of artificial birth control and advocates natural family planning.
It is sometimes a synonymous phrase for "Catholic-in-name-only" (or CINO), "Kennedy Catholic", "dissident Catholic", "heretical Catholic", "cultural Christian", or "liberal Catholic", but has also been applied to dissident traditionalist Catholic groups like the Society of St Pius X.
The term has no status in official Catholic teachings. However, the practice of selective adherence to the teachings of the Church has been repeatedly condemned by the Church as heresy, in the Magisterial teachings and through the teaching of the Popes. In a homily delivered on April 18, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI clarified the relation of dissent to faith:
Being an adult means having a faith which does not follow the waves of today's fashions or the latest novelties. A faith which is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ is adult and mature.
It is sometimes reported that a large number of Catholics today do not adhere to the teaching of the Catholic Church on a number of questions, notably sexual and conjugal morality, divorce and remarriage. Some are reported as not accepting the clear position on abortion. It has to be noted that there is a tendency on the part of some Catholics to be selective in their adherence to the Church's moral teaching. It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the Magisterium is totally compatible with being a "good Catholic," and poses no obstacle to the reception of the Sacraments. This is a grave error that challenges the teaching of the Bishops in the United States and elsewhere."
Self-described cafeteria Catholics
- Chicago Catholics and the Struggles Within Their Church page 21, Andrew M. Greeley - 2010 "4 Cafeteria Catholicism - In 1976, I published a book called The Communal Catholic (Greeley, 1976) in which I suggested that there two kinds of Catholics had emerged in the years after the council—'Institutional Catholics,' who obeyed or tried to obey all the rules and laws promulgated by the Church, and 'Communal Catholics,' who continued to attach themselves in some fashion to the church, but now to the community of its members rather than to the rules laid down by those in Church authority."
- Winters, Michael Sean (2009-01-30). "The Crowded Catholic Cafeteria". Slate.com.
- Catholic World News: Wide and Generous"?
- Taggiasco, Flavia (2005-04-20). "Ratzinger a close confidant of John Paul II". CNN.com.
- "Cafeteria Catholics".
- Molyneux, Michael (2006). "Faith, hope, and politics: Practicing religion in the public realm". Boston College Magazine. Retrieved 2009-06-25.
- Edelstein, Wendy (2006-02-15). "An Improbable Catholic". UC Berkeley News. Retrieved 2010-2-08.