Cafeteria Catholicism

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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 teachings on human sexuality (the so-called "pelvic issues")—abortion, birth control, divorce, premarital sex, masturbation, pornography, prostitution, or the moral status of homosexual acts.

Use in print[edit]

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.[1]

Use of the term[edit]

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.[2] 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 often a synonymous phrase for "Catholic-in-name-only" (or CINO), "dissident Catholic", "heretical Catholic", "cultural Christian", or "liberal Catholic".

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:[3]

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.

In a similar vein, Pope John Paul II stated in his talk to the Bishops in Los Angeles in 1987:[4]

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."

Dissenting Catholics do not see themselves as heretics.[citation needed]

Pope Francis said that rigid traditionalists and cafeteria Catholics “aren’t really Catholics”.[5]

Surveys on dissenting Catholic laity[edit]

Many U.S. Catholics disagree with church positions, according to a survey by World Values Survey cited in the Washington Post and Time. Favourable views about a pope do not influence Catholics who disagree with at least some of the church's teachings.[6] The survey finds that the Roman Catholic Church membership is divided over abortion, contraception, divorce, the ordination of women and married men. In some nations including Brazil, more than half of baptised Catholics support birth control. In the United States[7] and Spain,[citation needed] the majority of Catholics support gay marriage.

Africa and the Philippines believe in implementing Catholic doctrine within the faithful. A higher proportion of Third World Roman Catholics support the leadership while those in Western countries tend to disagree with many Catholic moral teachings.[citation needed]

The founder of World Values Survey, Ronald Inglehart said:

This is a balancing act. They have to hold together two increasingly divergent constituencies. The church has lost its ability to dictate what people do. Right now, the less-developed world is staying true to the old world values, but it’s gradually eroding even there. [Pope Francis] doesn’t want to lose the legitimacy of the more educated people. [7]

Francis has requested parishes provide answers to an official questionnaire regarding the current opinions among the laity. He has also continued to assert present Catholic doctrine in less dramatic tone than his more direct predecessors who maintained that the Catholic Church is not a democracy of popular opinion.[8][9]

Francis launched his own survey of Catholic opinion in November 2013. Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University writes, "it’s not a survey in any sense that a social scientist would recognize." Woodhead feels many ordinary Catholics will have difficulty understanding theological jargon there. Still Woodhead suspects the survey may be influential.

But surveys are dangerous things. They raise expectations. And they play to people's growing sense that they have voice and choice—even in a traditional Church. If it turns out that those voices are ignored or, worse, corralled more firmly into the existing sheepfold of moral teaching, the tension may reach a breaking point. Perhaps Francis is clever enough to have anticipated that, and perhaps he has subtle plans to turn such a crisis to good ends. Perhaps not.

—Linda Woodhead [10]

Self-described cafeteria Catholics[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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."
  2. ^ Winters, Michael Sean (2009-01-30). "The Crowded Catholic Cafeteria".
  3. ^ Taggiasco, Flavia (2005-04-20). "Ratzinger a close confidant of John Paul II". 
  4. ^ "Cafeteria Catholics". 
  5. ^ []
  6. ^ Catholics support Pope Francis, but many split on teachings: poll
  7. ^ a b Pope Francis faces church divided over doctrine, global poll of Catholics finds
  8. ^ Poll: Catholic Beliefs at Odds With Vatican Doctrine
  9. ^
  10. ^ New Poll: ‘Faithful Catholics’ an Endangered Species
  11. ^ Molyneux, Michael (2006). "Faith, hope, and politics: Practicing religion in the public realm". Boston College Magazine. Retrieved 2009-06-25. 
  12. ^ Edelstein, Wendy (2006-02-15). "An Improbable Catholic". UC Berkeley News. Retrieved 2010-2-08.