Cafeteria Catholicism

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A Cafeteria Catholic is a Catholic who dissents from the doctrinal or moral teachings of the Catholic Church,[1][2] including those who choose not to receive one or more of the seven sacraments (for example thinking confession to a priest is not necessary to have sins forgiven),[3] and not to follow Catholic teachings on sexual morality, abortion, birth control, divorce, premarital sex, masturbation, pornography, prostitution and homosexual acts.

Use in print[edit]

An early use in print of "cafeteria Catholic" appears in 1971:

"cafeteria Catholic" ... a little of this and none of that

— Redemptorists[4]

A later use 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.[5]

Use of the term[edit]

The term is most often used by conservative Catholics critical of progressive Catholics. 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.[citation needed]

It is often a synonymous phrase for "Catholic-in-name-only" (or CINO), "dissident Catholic", "heretical Catholic", "cultural Catholic"/"cultural Christian", "à la carte Catholic", or "liberal Catholic".

The term has no status in official Catholic teachings. However, the practice of denying adherence to the sexual morality of the Church has been criticized by Pope John Paul II stated in his talk to the Bishops in Los Angeles in 1987:[6]

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.

During morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis, speaking rather of half-hearted Catholics, said, "They may call themselves Catholic, but they have one foot out the door."[7]

Surveys on dissenting Catholic laity[edit]

In 2014, the U.S. Spanish-language network Univision commissioned a World Values Survey of 12,038 self-identified Catholics in 12 countries with substantial Catholic populations across the world, representing 61% of the world’s Catholic population and covering nine languages spread across five continents.[8] It found that majorities of Catholics globally and in most regions disagree with Church teachings on divorce, abortion, and contraception, with greater intra- and inter-national division on gay marriage and the ordination of women and divorced men.[8] Favourable views about the Pope (Francis) did not influence Catholics who disagree with at least some of the church's teachings.[9] Overall, a higher proportion of Third World Roman Catholics (notably Africa and the Philippines) accept the official doctrines on these subjects, while those in Western countries tend to disagree with many of them.[8]

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.[10]

Francis has requested that 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.[11][12]

Francis launched his own survey of Catholic opinion in November 2013. Religion sociologist 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 [13]

Notable proponents[edit]

Some notable Catholics have either been explicitly associated or identified with the term. Politician James Carville, a Democrat, has been described as "the ultimate cafeteria Catholic". Carville said, "Everybody in some way or another takes what they want. The real thing is how we treat each other."[14] Author Mary Karr, a convert from agnosticism, was also reported to have been a dissenter of some Catholic teaching. Having been a feminist since she was 12, Karr is pro-choice on abortion and she supports the ordination of women to the priesthood.[15] British actress Patsy Kensit said in an interview with The Guardian that she is an à la carte Catholic, though appreciative of "all the pomp and ceremony" of the church.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rathschmidt, Father Jack. Cafeteria Catholics. Our Faith: July 29, 2008. Retrieved 8-7-2021 from:
  2. ^ Reese, Thomas. Welcome to the cafeteria, Ross. Culture: January 14, 2016. Retrieved 8-7-2021 from:
  3. ^ Butler, Bill. My Life: Confessions of a Cafeteria Catholic April 13, 2015. Retrieved 8-8-2021 from:
  4. ^ "Liguorian". Liguorian. Redemptorists: 8. 1971.
  5. ^ 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."
  6. ^ "Cafeteria Catholics". Archived from the original on 2012-05-07. Retrieved 2012-07-26.
  7. ^ Wooden, Cindy (June 5, 2014). "Pope: Half-hearted Catholics aren't really Catholics at all". National Catholic Register. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c "Voice of the People". Univision. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  9. ^ "Catholics support Pope Francis, but many split on teachings: poll". Archived from the original on 2014-02-23. Retrieved 2014-02-19.
  10. ^ "Global poll reveals Catholics largely against teachings on abortion, contraception and divided by hemisphere". Washington Post.
  11. ^ "Poll: Catholic Beliefs at Odds With Vatican Doctrine". Time.
  12. ^ Atheism, Daylight (1 March 2013). "The Catholic Church Is Not a Democracy".
  13. ^ "New Poll: 'Faithful Catholics' an Endangered Species". 12 December 2013.
  14. ^ Molyneux, Michael (2006). "Faith, hope, and politics: Practicing religion in the public realm". Boston College Magazine. Retrieved 2009-06-25.
  15. ^ Edelstein, Wendy (2006-02-15). "An Improbable Catholic". UC Berkeley News. Retrieved 2010-2-08.
  16. ^ Caroll, Helen (February 26, 2011). "Patsy Kensit: My family values". Retrieved August 19, 2016.