The Intellectually Honest Cafeteria Catholic

If a Catholic examines a Church doctrine, studies the issue, decides that it is wrong and that they are going to live in contradiction to it, should they cease calling themselves Catholic?

I think that the Church allows one to question doctrine, but at the same time, a Catholic questioning a doctrine is still required to engage it and submit to it as they struggle.

Consequently, it seems that no Catholic is allowed to disbelieve a doctrine and then disobey it with no intention at repentance.

Examples I have in mind are a gay Catholic who decides that they will live with their husband and feel no guilt about it or a married Catholic who decides to engage in hormonal contraception in full knowledge and rejection of Church teachings. They have decided not to pray to God for understanding on the issue as they have decided there is nothing to understand, rather, that the Church is mistaken.

If such a person wishes to be intellectually honest, should they concede that they are not Catholic and go elsewhere?

I am guessing that you don’t want me to preach about why gay marriage is wrong, so I will just answer your question.
Debating about Catholicity is encouraged, and I love to have a healthy debate with non-catholics if we both listen to and consider each others points of views. In the end though, I know that the Catholic teaching is right, and yes, if you fully disagree with a major Catholic teaching (like the views on same-sex marriage) then you should stop calling yourself a Catholic. It puts practicing Catholics in a light that they do not want to be in.
God bless you, and I pray you eventually learn the truth about Christ and call yourself a Catholic.

Catholics are not Catholics merely because they believe in and/or practice the faith. They are Catholics due to their baptism. The question isn’t should they call themselves Catholic. They are Catholic. The question is are they a good Catholic or not? A good Catholic conforms his will/ideas/life to the teachings of the Church. Those unwilling to do so are not good Catholics, but they are still Catholics. Unlike some groups, we Catholics don’t kill our wounded. We pray for them, help them (if they’ll let us) and hope that they will come to understand what the Church teaches and why and align their wills and consciences with their faith.

Hi. Maybe I should have avoided the issue of gay marriage, because living in a gay marriage invites scandal, about which the Church seems to have particular concern and maybe be what you mean by putting Catholics in a certain light.

Let’s instead focus on the example of the contraception issue, or, say the rules about oral sex for a married couple. In this case, if they aren’t talking about how they practice oral sex, the issue of “scandal” is avoided. Your answer may be the same, but I just wanted to get clarification.

You do understand that when you say the Church is mistaken you are saying that Jesus is mistaken?

I did :shrug:

I didn’t refer to it as being “intellectually honest”, rather I saw myself claiming to be a Catholic when I didn’t believe many things a Catholic was supposed to believe theologically or socially, even after much prayer and discernment, as being hypocritical. I was able to live with the hypocritical disconnect for a while, but eventually I decided it was time to stop being “intellectually dishonest” as you term it and left the church, and indeed organized religion altogether for an extended time.

Now that’s not to say you should go running from Catholicism if you don’t agree with all of it (I’m sure people on this site would rather you didn’t :wink: ). You may be able to justify the disconnect to yourself as some Catholics I know do if you’re not able to conform yourself to Catholic teaching on matters at present. Or you may simply ignore any points of contention you have with the as most of the Catholics I know do including my dear mother. Or maybe you’ll be one of those cafeteria Catholics that eventually come around the the RCC’s way of seeing things after prayer and discernment. Only you can answer those questions.

I went through a long process of discernment when I was reverting. It took several years. There was a lot of “if I believe A then what about B” until I worked my way through the entire “alphabet”.

For me, it wasn’t a question of do I believe everything, but do I believe Enough?

And the answer to that question was Yes.

Absolutely not! Don’t take your ball and go home.

I’ve always detested the phrase “cafeteria Catholic.”

It’s needlessly pejorative and insulting. It’s use says “I don’t like what you believe, but I’m not articulate enough to say why, so I’ll use an insulting phrase someone else though up to describe a person who struggles with issues of conscience, even though calling names is never helpful.” Its use is a needless categorization of “us vs. them.”

The people who use that phrase are just as flawed and sinful as anyone else. If some can use the phrase “cafeteria catholic,” can I call people who use that phrase “small minded bitter hardheaded blind followers who just do whatever they’re told and needlessly call others names”?

The point of my above post is not to call names. It’s to ask why others do so, and to point out its counterproductivity.

Hi PolarGuy, I understand where you’re coming from, but I also think that you mis-categorize how most people use the phrase “cafeteria Catholic”.

Namely, you point out that someone can struggle with conscience and that we shouldn’t judge that. I think that any orthodox Catholic who is not just a smug-holier-than-thou type would say this is fine. One is allowed to struggle with doctrine and we all fail in our moral obedience.

The phrase is more directed to those who reject doctrine and no longer struggle with them. That they feel fine with rejecting doctrine means that they also implicitly reject, and many (most?) would do so explicitly if you asked them, the idea that the Church’s teachings are infallible and that the Church is the keeper of Sacred Tradition who is protected by the Holy Spirit from errors in faith and morals.

In some ways, if you believe that this idea is central to the Catholic Church, and the Church itself says that it is, saying the Church is just wrong on some issue and ceasing to struggle with it is to deny what the Church is.

So, I see the use of the phrase as meaning less someone who struggles with Church teachings and more someone who rejects the idea that on every single issue of faith and morals (and we’re usually talking about morals), the Church is always right, has always been right, will always be right, and takes the view that they are allowed, under their own understanding, chose which teachings to take and which to reject. That’s a pretty radical and heretical statement from the orthodox perspective.

Cafeteria is a pretty good description of that, and, sure, it has negative connotations, but what would you expect?

So my question was implicitly about people who do not accept the Church’s inerrancy is faith and morals and do not struggle to accept such a belief.

I believe the polls show that this makes up a solid majority Catholics, at least in western countries, but I think we can also agree that they are, like pretty much everyone, happy to ignore the contradictions. Hence, I also wanted to narrow my question to someone who wants to be intellectually honestly.

Does abandoning the struggle to understand the Church’s infallibility mean abandoning the struggle to be Catholic?

If a person is sacramentally baptised Catholic then they are Catholic forever. Once a Catholic always a Catholic. There is no such thing as an ex or former Catholic. There are only two types of Catholic - those in a state of grace and those in a state of mortal sin.

[quote=carefullytread]Does abandoning the struggle to understand the Church’s infallibility mean abandoning the struggle to be Catholic?

Yes, it means that. You’ll forgive me for once again quoting G. K. Chesterton, but he was so right and so pithy about nearly everything that I can’t resist. :wink: He wrote:

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.


A dead thing goes with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.

The teachings of the Church are divine, not human, but many approach them as if they are the mere teachings/philosophies of men and not Christ’s. In this way they can argue that they don’t need to “follow what a bunch of celibate old men have to say” about morals or anything else. It gives them an easy out to simply “go with the flow” of the zeitgeist of their particular culture. And yet, they want the sacrament available to them since they see them as some kind of “right” instead of the great privilege that they are. They want to appear smarter than their orthodox brethren and still be considered one of them. Jesus told St. John what would happen to such as these. “I will spew them out of my mouth for they are neither hot nor cold.” It’s a serious matter, all right. No doubt about it.

I agree with the sentiment of the original post. Those who outright reject a teaching should be explicit about it and not dance around it. They should refrain from taking Communion and research the teaching more.

But for those who reject a teaching, and still attempt to practice the faith, they are playing with serious danger. Jesus was pretty explicit, in that He absolutely LOATHES people being lukewarm. He would rather you be hot or cold, but don’t try to be lukewarm. The punishment for the lukewarm will be worse than those who are cold.

Also, understand that what Della said is right. You are Catholic by baptism, but your beliefs decide whether or not you are a practicing Catholic. Also, sex is supposed to happened between a man and his wife with the openness of having a child. Don’t mean to be graphic, but oral sex isn’t very open to reproduction.
God Bless

So if a Catholic attends a Presbyterian or Methodist Church instead of Catholic he or she is in a state of mortal sin? I don’t think that is our call.

No. The intellectually and spiritually honest thing to do is to study what the Church teaches, and why, and to pray to be conformed to it. The conclusion “there is nothing to understand” does not sound very integrative. It is an attitude of rebellion.

I don’t know anyone who has used this term in such a fashion, including myself. I think what is recognized in it is the existence of persons caling themselves Catholic who believe it is permissble to pick and choose which doctrines they will accept and which ones they feel they can leave off their tray. It is a reflection of an attitude that denies that the Catholic faith is One seamless garment, and the integrity is lost when certain threads are unravelled. Unfortunately, the “us vs them” occurs when the teachings of Jesus, infallibly preserved in the Church by the Holy Spirit are thrown aside. What these “Catholics” do not realize is that they have become Protestants.

It is true that people who use that phrase are just as flawed and sinful as anyone else. But you have also identified the difference. Catholics who accept the faith and exercise humility about that which is a struggle of conscience are willing to obey the Church, and give the assent of faith during the struggle. It would be just as prejudiced for you to assume obedient Catholics are “small minded bitter hardheaded blind followers who just do whatever they’re told”. It is simple to see by reading these threads that there are daily Catholics who struggle with their faith, conscience and the Teachings. This struggle can be undertaken with humility, or arrogance.

Its not our call. Its the Church’s call and the Church has the authority in matters of faith and morals directly from Christ.
If a Catholic rejects Church teachings and walks away from the Church and only attends other Church services then yes that Catholic would be committing a sin of grave matter. However, that person remains a Catholic.
I repeat that there is no such thing as an ex or former Catholic.

I think you hit exactly the right point, that there is a difference between those who struggle, but obey and those who decided to give up the struggle. It’s the latter who are called cafeteria Catholics.

What is interesting is that they have a name, an idea condensed in a pithy title. Your other extreme option “small minded bitter hardheaded blind followers who just do whatever they’re told” doesn’t have a name.

I was thinking about that is, and I suspect it has something to do with the change over the last generation or two in which liberal Catholics gave up caring about doctrine. Damon Linker wrote an interesting article in which he realized this fact.

For orthodox Catholics, the doctrine is important and worth fighting about. For cafeteria Catholics (which, if we’re honest, is the vast majority of Catholics - though I don’t claim that this fact implies anything about the rightness or wrongness of doctrine; it just is), the doctrine issue is moot; it doesn’t matter to them. Because of that, people on that side of the issue haven’t bothered to come up with a sticky name for those on the orthodox side.

This thread, of course, was about people on the other side of the divide who do think this stuff matters and try to maintain what I’ve called intellectual honesty.

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