Catholics for a Changing Church

"To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often" - Bl. John Henry Newman

A History of Cafeteria Catholicism

We are grateful to Catholica for this article.  Do Google the people mentioned if you are not sure who they are.

I am a Cafeteria Catholic, everyone is a Cafeteria Catholic. If that is so then isn't a history of Cafeteria Catholicism, just a history of Catholicism. Ooh, if it were that simple.

At the present time, and in reality since the beginning of the pontificate of John Paul II, many Catholics who are trying to live an adult faith life have been accused of being "Cafeteria Catholics". That label is about as dirty as calling someone in American politics a Liberal or someone from Liverpool a Man. United supporter.

What is a Cafeteria Catholic?


So what is a Cafeteria Catholic? According to

Cafeteria Catholics are those who pick and choose what doctrines they want to follow and what doctrines they want to ignore. They do not have any respect for the authority of the Catholic Church. The guidelines of the church are meaningless. The sad part of the story is there are nuns and priests included in this category. The difference between a cafeteria Catholic and a lukewarm Catholic is that the cafeteria Catholic is ruled by pride. They believe that they do not have to follow the rules of anyone. They are in charge and they can believe what they want.

Today we need to look at some of the heroes of Cafeteria Catholicism, many of whom have been so sanitised in church history books and Sunday sermons it is unlikely they would recognise themselves.

Jesus: the "cafeteria Jew"...

Jesus — certainly neither a Christian nor a Catholic — started a trend, in his life as a Cafeteria Jew, and is the model for Cafeteria Catholics. According to the scriptures, taken seriously — hopefully

  • Jesus ignored Sabbath Law by healing, picking and eating corn etcetera on the day of rest; defiled himself by associating with Samaritans, women (of ill repute), tax collectors etcetera; spoke of God as daddy; and suggested a triune God.

Some of the giants of Cafeteria Catholicism...

In no particular order some of the giants of Cafeteria Catholicism.

Paul (again not a Christian) but did a great job telling people to ignore the law, and certainly took on authority over issues of law.

Giovanni di Bernardone akaFrancis of Assisi challenged the pope and bishops over the richness of their lifestyle. A more recent member of the episcopacy who offered the same challenge to his brother bishops seems to have modelled his mission on St Francis!

Francis and his fellow Cafeteria Catholic Dominic Guzman ignored contemporary church wisdom and practice by not living in monasteries but by sending their confreres out into the highways and byways. (Shades of the mission of the 72!)

Thomas Aquinas, a person of some significance, was condemned by theBishop of Paris in 1270. The bishop listed 18 errors and condemnable propositions. This list was later expanded. It appears, that from quite early times bishops were perhaps more (or less) conversant with bad law than with good theology.

Angela Merici was not very popular when her Ursuline sisters wore no habits, took no vows, and lived, not in convents, but with their families. Even then things in the church moved slowly. The Ursuline's constitution was approved four years after St. Angela'sdeath.

Mary Ward had her Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Loreto Sisters) suppressed, even though the Ursulines had gone through similar stuff 50 years prior to Mary Ward's birth.

Catherine of Siena was not backward in challenging church authorities, including a couple of popes, when she felt they needed it. The work of contemporary women like Margaret Kane, Joan Chittister, and in our own backyard in Toronto, Mary Malone and Mary Baier followed in the footsteps of the great Dominican Mother, St. Catherine.

At a time when the second person, after the conquistador, to land in the new world was the priest intent on baptising the conquered and enslaved indigenous peoples, Bartolome de las Casas challenged the existing church mores. Centuries later, John XXIII would speak similar words for the institutional church in his encyclical, Pacem in Terris [1963].

The Jesuits Alessandro Valignano and his protégé Matteo Ricci, whose use of "cultural accommodation", and preparing a natively trained clergy was suppressed by the Vatican only to be resurrected at the time of Vatican II.

Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Diarmuid O'Murchu, Gail Worcelo, Miriam McGillis and Michael Morwood take heart. Giordano Bruno was imprisoned and burned by order of the Inquisition at the beginning of the 17th century because of his work as a cosmologist.

Saints and heretics...

Some Cafeteria Catholics are honoured as saints, some burned as heretics.'Saint' or 'heretic' is decided by the cafeteria menu of the church authorities of the time.

Those women again. Marguerite Bourgeoys (Canada's first woman canonised) was initially opposed by the bishop because her nuns were not going to be cloistered.

Thomas More, ignored the praxis of all the English bishops except John Fisher, refused to acknowledge the Act of Succession and subsequently lost his head.

Kelix Varela [1788-1853], criticised the church who opposed the spirit of liberty and democracy. Even then he was hearing "the church is not a democracy".

Isaac Hecker championed American democracy and separation of church and state in direct contradiction of Catholic principles of the time.

John Henry Newman had his article, "On consulting the Laity in matters of Faith" denounced to Rome, along with his criticism of papal claims to temporal power. Vatican City is still a temporal power.

Ben Salmon [1889-1932] was imprisoned from 1917 to 1920 as a conscientious objector because as a Catholic he was not a member of an historic peace church but rather in a church that favoured the "just war" theory.

Dorothy Day was not exactly lauded by the church for her pacificism duringWorld War II and later her anti-nuclear protests. This was somewhat different from the loudly public position ofFrancis Joseph, Cardinal Spellman, he of the blessing of bombers and the famous utterance, "My country, may it always be right, right or wrong, my country!" In the Cafeteria Catholics corner on this issue we had theCantonsville Nine, including, Phil and Dan Berrigan. Today the peace diet is kept on the cafeteria menu byCharlie McCarthy, John Dear SJ, Pax Christi, The Catholic Worker and Canadian Catholics like Bob Holmes and Jim Loney.

For 30 years Catholic New Times proclaimed this issue as an integral and necessary part of a healthy cafeteria menu.

So we see that refusing to eat from the officially chosen cafeteria menu has been the lot of many Catholics. As leadership in the church has moved further away from the people, the hoi polloi, the sensus fidelium and the cafeteria menu became less and less nourishing for persons trying to be church in the modern world Cafeteria Catholics have had a significant role in prophetic action.

Alfred Delp SJ opposed Hitler and the Nazis despite the Concordat signed by the Catholic Church and Franz Jaggerstatter, a conscientious objector against the counsel of his parish priest and bishop.

But leadership for Cafeteria Catholics has also come from within church hierarchy, bishops and priests.

Cardinal Henri de Lubac was condemned in 1950 by the papal statementHumani Generis to be rescued by John XXIII and Vatican II. The main contention of de Lubac, Maurice Blondel, Urs Von Balthasar and others was that "theology, to remain alive, must move with the times" and that"traditional theology is out of touch with reality."

Cardinal Yves Congar, one of the foundational theologians ofVatican II, was earlier condemned and forbidden to write because of his support for "worker priests". Similar silencing was the result of American Jesuit, John Courtney Murray's "claim that a new moral truth had emerged outside the church". Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, changed dramatically when challenged by cafeteria Catholics about his life being focused on the church and not onChrist. St. Oscar Romero of the Americas was about to be replaced by Rome as Archbishop of San Salvador, because of his solidarity with the poor and oppressed,when an assassin's bullet saved the Curia from getting even more egg on its face.

One final major hero ofCafeteria Catholicism wasAngelo Giuseppe Roncalli, Pope John XXIII. He was the first Pope to leave Vatican territory since 1870 and at a time when the Catholic Church appeared strong and vibrant — seminaries and convents overflowing, parishes with 3 and 4 priests, missionary orders in many parts of the world — he called an ecumenical council , looking foraggiornamento. A proud Cafeteria Catholic who believed his Catholic Church was "semper reformanda".

This is but a quick glance at some of our mothers and fathers in Cafeteria Catholicism. So stand up proud and proclaim, "I am a Cafeteria Catholic and I'm proud of it!"

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