Are You a Cafeteria Catholic?

by | Oct 22, 2021 | Formation, Reflections | 3 comments

With all the sound and the fury today about the “Pick and choose” approach to orthodoxy, I remembered the following reflection from the Religion News Service.

The truth is most Catholics are cafeteria Catholics. Conservative Catholics were quite willing to ignore John Paul’s and Benedict’s strong statements on justice and peace. Progressive Catholics are happy to ignore Francis’ opposition to women priests. These criticisms of Pope Francis put progressive Catholics in an awkward position. Progressives are big fans of Francis, but it would be somewhat hypocritical of them to suddenly become papal absolutists when they clearly had disagreements with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. On the other hand, conservatives who are now critical of Francis accused progressives of being “cafeteria Catholics” when they disagreed with John Paul or Benedict.

It sounds like we entered the era of “Personal infallibility”

Another form of “inconvenient truth”?

Over the decades I have noticed that the connotation of “Cafeteria Catholic“ varies according to who is doing the calling and what the issue is.

In the 1960’s, and for the following 50 odd years, I noticed that whenever the Pope said something related to sexual matters one group would stand up for strict adherence to what he said. Another group would say something to the effect that change was necessary. I always found it revealing that when the Pope would speak of social issues the groups would shift sides!

It became clear to me that people would invoke the Pope when he was saying things that they agreed with. Thus, the shifting support or questioning for the encyclical on issues of sexual morality (Humanae Vitae) and social justice (Mater et Magistra.)  Few would say it, but the way one would rally around the Pope seemed to depend upon whether the Pope agreed with them.

Today those who used to take cudgels to anyone who disagreed with a Pope now often lead the charge seriously asking whether the current Pope is Catholic. And those who tended to ignore some Popes cheer on the current Pope.

But the truth is larger than what either is willing to see and struggle to understand.

Recognizing tendencies in myself.

The post reminded me that it has taken me a long time to become aware of how I read scripture. I finally realized that I read the scriptures with a “cafeteria” mentality. I would read the parables of Jesus as stories of what happened long ago. I would fail to see myself as each of the persons in the scripture.  Focusing on one part, I missed the deeper challenge for me contained in the story.

I would fantasize myself as the good Samaritan. Indeed, there were many times when I have been. However, I would never ask myself when and how today I have used excuses and passed by my wounded brother or sister. Or, after taking care of the immediate needs, have I provided for follow-up care? Have I thought about how to make the road he was traveling safer? All these are parts of the truths contained in the story of the Good Samaritan.

So I also began to ask myself if I am a Cafeteria Vincentian. Do I see BOTH the physical and spiritual needs?

Cafeteria Vincentians?

  • Am I concerned about spiritual and physical needs of my brothers and sisters?
  • Do I work toward long term solutions as well as meeting immediate needs?
  • Do I balance working with the sweat of my brow and nourishing myself in prayer as Vincent did?


  1. James Ruiz

    Thanks for this article on “Cafeteria Catholics,” when some of us are ostracized and treated as if we are not catholic. Believing in the Gospel messages, including the right to life from conception to natural end and taking care of my brother’s needs no matter where he may be. Always believing that we can kill a person by more than aborting a fetus. Denying a person’s right to represent himself by voting is just as bad as killing him and his family from denying him the freedoms afforded by his vote.

  2. Giulio Grecchi

    Thank you, Father Freund, for the spiritual reflection. Of course, we all have some biases, but as Vincentians we have to make an effort to be objective when reading the Gospel and the teaching of the Popes.

    When we think about their writing on social justice and societal issues, recent popes, from John XXIII, to Paul VI, John Paul, Benedict and now Francis are amazingly consistent in their teaching. I find that just their style and personality are different, plus each of them emphasized one part of the teaching or the other depending on how they interpreted the needs of their times.

    It would be very nice if all Vincentians leaders would appreciate the fact that conservative or liberal principles have nothing to do with Catholic social teaching. CST go so far beyond those overused and tired concepts and lead us instead to real Truth, Justice, Love and Joy. That is what we should strive to teach.