Cafeteria Catholics: why don't they go to the Episcopal Church?

I’m really interested in hearing the responses of any cafeteria Catholics if there are any here. I’m kind of new to the Catholic Church and I’m wondering what the mindset of the cafeteria Catholic is.

To my understanding, the Episcopal Church is the cafeteria Catholic’s dream. It’s what they wish they could make the Catholic Church into if they were pope: abortion, divorce and remarriage, artificial contraception, homosexual actions and the “gay lifestyle” all are approved. Plus there’s a liturgy that looks similar to the mass, bishops, priests and all that. I’d imagine there’s some talk of Jesus there too if the cafeteria Catholic is fond of him.

Why would a Catholic stay within the dusty confines of the outdated/sexist/homophobic/etc. Roman Catholic Church when he or she could find a warm welcome in the Episcopal Church? Why would the cafeteria Catholic try and change what he ought to know will not change and has never changed? Is it because the cafeteria Catholic was brought up in the Catholic Church by believing parents and therefore has a certain attachment or nostalgia for it? Is it because the cafeteria Catholic was never taught what the Church actually teaches?

I personally wasn’t brought up Catholic, and I’m just really curious to know why this phenomenon of cafeteria Catholicism exists.

It’s interesting though…what I usually see instead of what I’m suggesting here is the cafeteria Catholic simply becomes a practical atheist when he or she gets tired of going to an institution with beliefs to inimical to theirs. Professing to be driven by his or her precious conscience, the cafeteria Catholic instead of remaining a follower of Christ simply gives up on Jesus. I can only guess that to them, the culture of death, the gay agenda and social approval is more important than Jesus.


I will jump in being that I was baptized and raised in the Episcopal Church. As most answers to complicated questions are, there are nuances to the explanation from what I have seen in the Catholic Church. Now, I am speaking of the Roman Rite and not of the Eastern Catholic Churches (the Rites of the Melkite, Byzantine, Maronite, etc.), which is a pretty big thing. It seems to me that in all of the Catholic Churches there is a degree of “inherited faith”–you are what your parents and grandparents were. In my view, there are a great many “cradle Catholics” who were quite clearly poorly catechized growing up. The level of ignorance can be astounding. Many of them have infrequently opened (it seems to me), let alone, studied the Catechism approved by Blessed John Paul II in 1992. As a result, most of what they get about the Church and what she teaches is from the secular media or was during the key formative part of their lives. Because the Roman rite is so universal and is the rite of 90% of the world’s Catholics, the ill-informed Catholic can drift along and not be seen and not even be pushed to learn more about the Faith in all its beauty. Furthermore, when one sees that certain disciplines are relaxed (but don’t really comprehend the profound difference between a discipline and dogma/doctrine) one can see how the changing social and sexual mores of mainline Protestantism in North America, in particular, could seep into the collective mindset of millions of Catholics "by inheritance. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, though (perhaps because of their smallish numbers combined with ethnic issues), there is great emphasis on the Eastern Catholics learning THEIR Rites, traditions, devotionals, etc, as a way of maintaining their special identity as EASTERN Catholics. So, there tend to attend mass in greater numbers (by percentage, tithe more, attend more community gatherings, and LIVE their unique Catholic Faith more on a daily basis than their Roman Rite brothers–in my humble opinion.

For me, the Roman Rite Catholics fail to appreciate the beauty of their rite and importance of it in their daily lives. They have seen certain practices and devotions go by the wayside in the aftermath of Vatican II (or were never introduced to them at all), such that the Episcopal Church seems like the Roman Rite Catholic Church without all the “sexual hang-ups” and rigidity (perceived) of the Church hierarchy. Being good Americans, they like the prospect of the democratization of the Church polity and point to the Episcopal Church as a way of seeing it down in a reasonably acceptable “alternative” way to love and praise Jesus. Yet, they don’t cross over as much as the original poster is thinking they might. Why not? I think it has more to do with being Catholic by inheritance and/or culturally (being Polish, Italian, Hispanic, Irish, etc) and not wanting to change. I also think there is an inkling of underlying belief that the Catholic Church is special and that the Holy Father really means something, in addition to the Eucharist being more than just symbolism, which is what it is in many Episcopal communities (but, true to Episcopal tradition–you can find a few who declare they are Real Presence Episcopalians). It is the “remnant”–to use a phrase from the Prophets–of the Truth of Catholicism that still resides in them, so, they stay with Rome, even though they knowingly or unknowingly tear at the fabric of Church by erroneously thinking the Church is a democracy wherein some beliefs can be voted on by popularity or “reason” (in the post-1950s sense).

The solution? I don’t know but have some suggestions–get Catholics of the Roman Rite to better appreciate and love the Church, her history, her sacraments, her Catechism, her glorious devotions and pious traditions and bring back a bit more of the idea of being holy–set apart as Catholic Christians. Bring back certain old disciplines and educate them on why they were part of the Church for so long. Get folks to actually read the Catechism and Scripture more often. Teach more parishioners in the art of apologetic, with proper respect and charity–more so to better love and adore that which they have been gifted, perhaps without realizing it. If you do these things, perhaps more “cafeteria” Catholics will start to enjoy the menu prepared by Catholicism from centuries ago and keep the special of the day (or the decade) that the Episcopal Church is selling sitting off to the side. Blessings!

Thank you! I ask that question myself, NOT being a Cafeteria Catholic.

Maybe because the majority of Roman Catholic laity is very liberal and they feel at home there?

It is maddening that with one broad stoke, you (and many other posters on here) are able to judge the entire Episcopal Church as being abortion loving, homosexual approving, and a whole host of other various things you deem as liberal/heterodox.

Many of the “rank and file” Catholics that I know are far more liberal than the “rank and file” Episcopalians that I know. If I were to judge the entire RCC by the laity, I’d come away thinking that the RCC is the most liberal denomination in the world.

This is why virtually nobody from the Anglican side has took advantage of the Anglican Ordinariate, the grass is simply not as green as some would have us believe.

EDIT: ShawnBM, could you please show me the statistics on Episcopalians not believing in the Real Presence? I have not seen one Episcopal Church deny the real presence of Christ. If we go off of what the laity think, then you should be concerned about the RCC because only 20% of Catholic laity affirm the real presence.

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Motley. Yep. Motley.


While the OPs question may have implied your concern, its not the point. The point is why do people who oppose the doctrines of the Catholic Church prefer to be in “communion” with the RCC when they could belong to a church whose doctrines explicitly reject many of those of the RCC and with which these Cafeteria Catholics could agree. The question is NOT about what Episcopalians or Anglicans believe, it is about what the Episcopal and Anglican Churches teach. In other words why be a member of club whose rules you disagree with when you can be a member of a club whose rules you do agree with. Its not necessarily about whether you agree or disagree with the other members.

The difference I found as a former Episcopalian is that the one body of believers has a set of doctrines/dogmas that everyone is expected to believe and uphold. The other changes it’s teachings based on the mores of the times, and it’s faithful can believe/promote anything they want without correction or censure of any kind. No matter what individuals believe in either one, only one holds that there are definite teachings that cannot be questioned/denied while the other is open to anything and everything as long as it is acceptable to the society in which it inhabits.

No, I don’t have statistics, but they very well may be out there to be obtained. I can tell you that the 39 Articles, with the criticism of the Real Presence, invocation of the saints and other Romish things as fond thing is still in the BCP–never been removed here in the States (unless they have in the last five years). That is the thing–I was always a Real Presence adherent, but I was told and knew “low Church” and other Episcopalians who disagreed with me–that it was not something I had to accept as revealed truth. Whenever I would press priests on just this one topic (there were many), the end result was that I was not obligated to believe in the real presence to be a faithful Episcopalian. I was told by a bishop that we are a confessing church rather than a confessional (like the Romans) church. I happen to believe ideas have consequences and real effects in people and in Churches. I also know that in all of Christendom–both East and West–the belief in the Real Presence was always there. Only after the sixteenth century did large groups start saying that you could believe it was symbolic or not, or whatever.

I have seen the same–and it’s not all about gay sex. It is a part of it, yes, but Gene Robinson is a symptom and not the cause. It really revolves around what is the Church. Who preserves the truth, the Tradition? The house of bishops? Only in consultation with the house of deputies? The deputies alone? Is it by popular vote of theologians in TEC? What about the Anglican Communion–how much of what TEC espouses must be in keeping with historic Anglicanism, at least in terms of theology? Does the Windsor Report or others matter? Do they bind? What if my use of reason as the third-prong of the stool is in direct contravention of another Episcopal parishioner, clergyperson or a bishop? Are all right? Is truth subjective? If so, then we are talking Protestantism pure and simple, it seems to me.

This is an interesting question for me too as I also don’t understand the phenomenon of cafeteria catholic. In my case comes from being from a different country in which the mindset is if you are not in communion with the church then you change religions. Where I come from you really don’t see cafeteria catholics as the people who would fall in this category they leave the church so I am curious too about this. I wonder if it has to do with Catholicism being a minority in the US?

I completely agree with this. And I would like to offer
a wish. That the Western Churches not go back in time to
Pre Vatican II or Latin as the solution so many people
adhere to but rather incorporate more of the customs,
traditions of our Eastern brethren within the Church. In homilies,
in prayer groups, icons as well as statues, review
fasting guidelines with the Eastern in mind.
Reason is, sad to say, there is a reverential life
within the Eastern that is somewhat more apparent
than in our Western Church.
The solution may really lie in a third rite- the Western/Eastern
Rite so to speak. Lol

They would certainly find a home in the Episcopal Church-It is undeniable that the EC has problems

However it is far too easy to oversimplify issues such as those dealing with issues of human sexuality-I personally know of not one member of my Church who thinks abortion is a good idea period-it is not promoted

Of course we accept birth control as clearly do the majority of Roman Catholics and their Clergy-about 15% of Congregants in my CHurch are former RC -next largest group is former Baptists

We are a Church that encourages discussion, debate and the use of our God given intellect
I choose to believe that God is love and the EC will not ostracize individuals based on their sexuality-we will not turn away Divorced members but will embrace them
We do not want to be RC if we wanted that we would join-

We have great respect for the RC from which we emerged -the Pope is a Holy Man clearly filled with Love and Wiisdom -we could use suchan individual in the Episcopal Church-

Surely you are aware that the 39 articles are not Episcopal doctrine and have not been such since 1982. They are still present in the BCP but only in a Historic Document appendix. I don’t know the position of “Anglicans” in the continuum?

But that stuff of predjudice and words like “romish AND papistic” dissapeared many years ago… I was Episcopal for many years, since long before the “continuum” went into schism and all the Episcopal churches I went to had crucifixes, stations, and statues and or icons. A far different picture from what you paint.


You not only take a shot at Catholics in general, but also Episcopalians!

And you lump any Catholic who may disagree with a teaching of the Church as a “Cafeteria Catholic” and perhaps even an atheist. In case you didn’t know, there are many Catholic theologians, and bishops, and even a few Cardinals who have issues with some of the doctrines and disciplines of the Church. We should just ship them all over to the Episcopalians, based on your thinking.

I would sincerely recommend that you read the GOSPELS, and see if your attitude and prejudices are in any way in alignment with the teachings of JESUS.

Also, it may surprise you to learn that the Church is more, much more, than a set of doctrines and “thou shalt nots”. Did Jesus ever inquire of a person’s beliefs or doctrinal orthodoxy before curing them? Not that we can read. Did he welcome ALL, including sinners and outcasts, or did he welcome only the perfect? Hmmm…seems like he actually had very unkind things to say about those who paraded their perfect orthodoxy before others.

One other suggestion: You may want to catch up on what Pope Francis has been doing and saying. He is YOUR pope now, too, and maybe you will find something instructive in his example.

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I expect that for most of them, their family and friends are Catholic, and they don’t want to belong to another Church. Also, Episcopal churches aren’t as common where I live and are often smaller and don’t have all the “perks” of the local Catholic parishes that they enjoy . (i.e.- parish clubs and groups, frequent carnivals and events, six weekend Mass times to choose from, pretentious day school, scores of opportunity for serving others, large and varied music program, etc.) Furthermore, most people would prefer that the world change to suit them and not the other way around. It’s much more convenient that way.

Having asked that question of several friends who are very much cafeteria Catholics, and when asked if they are they say yes they are, I have two reasons. First, hope springs eternal in them that the Church will modernize itself and change some of its doctrines. Second, it is where they have gone all of their lives and it is familiar. I don’t agree but this is what I have been told when asking the same questions.

As a Lutheran in full communion with the Episcopal Church, I can clearly understand why some Catholics join the Episcopal Church. To suggest that these former Roman Catholics are merely “untaught” or essentially selfish is quite offensive. Would one consider a former Episcopalian who is now Catholic, an ignorant or self-centered person?

I know of Catholics who have left the Church for both Episcopalian and Lutherans parishes due to the Roman Catholics position of homosexuality. Are these former Catholics somehow less Christian?

Setting aside the comments about Episcopalians in particular (which I can understand an Episcopalian being offended by), the heart of your question seems to be why Catholics who don’t accept every teaching still stay Catholic.

This question comes up on the forums periodically and I always post a link to this article when it does:

Why I’m Still Catholic by Fr. Greely

Really, there are many different kinds of “cafeteria Catholics”. Some are lukewarm and don’t pay close enough attention to Catholic things to ever experience any sort of mental disconnect between the Profession of Faith and what they actually believe. But others are very well informed – probably more so than the majority of us CAF posters – and even work in various positions within the Catholic Church. The answer to the question “Why don’t you just leave?” is going to be different for them.

For those who are more involved, yet still question certain teachings, I think they would counter with the question: Do you leave your family just because you disagree with some of them? And the answer is: Of course not. So why leave the Catholic family? Why leave the faith that is their home?

You and I may realize that certain teachings are not going to change. But they would not see it that way. And they would see their continued presence as a witness to the change they believe needs to take place. Reform comes from within, not from without.

I think we need to be very careful about these types of conversations as the potential to offend and foster a spirit of animosity is very high. We should not be about kicking the “unfaithful” to the curb (or sending them somewhere else to be someone else’s problem). We should be about conversion of hearts and minds.

As far as the continuum, like all things in Anglicanism, it depends who you ask. If you are speaking of the mid-1970’s breakaways ascibing to the “Affirmation of St Louis”, then no they would not uphold the 39 Articles as they are predominantly Anglo-Catholics.

If you speak of the ACNA as the continuum, then many would as the 39 Articles are grounded in the Protestant Reformed theological school of thought.

Motley as our friend says…

With the exception of the clergy of the Church of England (technically, IAW the Subscription Act of 1571), no Anglican is necessarily bound to affirm the Articles, merely by virtue of their existence, in that form. Varying Anglican jurisdictions have varying attitudes toward them. The Continuum, as noted, is heavily on the Anglo-Catholic side. Little use for the Articles, per se. The ACNA is not of the Continuum.

Yes, I’ve said this before.


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