The Texas Inkling


The Problem with "Cafeteria" Catholics by Jim Noble

A dark seed has been growing within the Catholic Church over the last few decades.  This taint became stronger, more noticeable during the 1960s and has grown stronger still with the death of Pope John Paul II.  The phenomena to which I am now referring is that of the so-called “Cafeteria Catholics,” a group of people within the Catholic Church that reject some or in many cases many of the Church’s teachings and doctrines.  For better of for worse, this rejection unfortunately undermines the Church’s authority.

Consider first those in the Church who protest its strongly pro-life position.  A few of these people may have even actually obtained abortions for themselves, others simply claim that they are simply out to defend someone else’s “right” to make this choice.  The former group at least has effectively declared that this particular teaching of the Church, namely that the unborn child is still a human child with a soul and that killing it is in fact murder, is wrong.  This can make one or more of several assumptions.  The first (and most unlikely) is that murder is not wrong.  This assumption can be more-or-less ignored here, as only a handful of people would subscribe to it.

The second assumption is that the unborn child has not yet received its soul, and therefore isn’t really human yet, so killing it is not murder.  This makes the rather arrogant assumption that the individual has better judgment in matters of the souls than the Church.  This begs the questions as to why such an individual would have need of being a member of the Church, having a more keen sense of such luminous matters than the Church.

A third assumption is that the unborn child has a soul, but that there is more to making that child a person than simply possessing a soul.  This assumption also forces the assumption that there is something besides the soul that separates humans from the rest of the animals.  Unfortunately, nothing else exists to make that separation.  Even our superior intelligence, as it is only superior, is merely a higher degree of something else possessed by other animals, rather than being entirely unique to humans.

Also contested by many of the so-called Cafeteria Catholics is the Church’s position on other forms of birth control.  The Church’s teachings here are based on the purpose of the act of intercourse as an intimate act that is a gift from God to people.  But a part of this intimate love between the two people is that they remain committed to each other, and also that, should the act bring a child into existence, they extend their love to that child in raising him or her.  In fact, this is at the center of the act of sexual intercourse, that the two people engaging in it love each other so much that they wish to build a family together.

Those Catholics who argue against the Church’s positions in these matter do so for a variety of generally secular reasons.  Some argue that the Church’s opposition to contraceptives helps to spread STIs, especially in the Third World countries.  However, those African countries which have the highest rate of Catholicism per capita also suffer the least from the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS.  Perhaps of greater interest still is that marriages in which birth control is used during sexual intercourse end in divorce more frequently than do those that do not use birth control.  Archbishop Harry Bicky of Perth stated to the Australian Family Association that, “One element - contraception - perhaps goes deeper than… other factors since it attacks the fundamental sign and symbol of loving unity - I mean the sexual union that symbolises the mutual love and that deepens it.”  In other words, the use of contraceptives can undermine the trust between couples that is so critical to maintaining a successful marriage.

Yet another point on which many Cafeteria Catholics challenge the Church’s authority is in the area of homosexual relationships.  Some go as far as to demand that the Church will not only stop condemning such relationships but that it will normalize them by performing homosexual “marriages.”  A few have resorted to imposing these marriages on the Church via law in various countries.  And though none of these laws have yet been passed, it will only be a matter of time before the performance of these “marriages” becomes attached to tax exemptions or worse (as in the US, where imminent domain has been expanded) as a condition for keeping the land on which various churches are situated.

This particular point on which so many Catholics oppose the Church goes beyond simple Church doctrine and teaching.  The Bible itself says explicitly in numerous places in both the Old Testament and the New Testament that homosexuality is immoral, a sin.  How can the Church be expected to change its position on this subject that is so plainly described as sinful throughout Scripture?

The so-called Cafeteria Catholics oppose the Church on a variety of other doctrines and teachings.  An interesting pattern that seems apparent in all of these points is that the disagreement between some people with the Church are all centered around a common theme, namely, “What is the proper relationship between one person and another, and what is the relationship between these people and God?”  This theme is in turn related to the commandments to love God and to love each other, which Christ in the Gospels states are the two most important of the commandments.  These are therefore areas in which it is very important for the Church to be right.  Therein lies the danger of Cafeteria Catholicism:  it claims to have greater authority in matters of Church doctrine than does the actual Church itself.  Thus, the religion must change to suit these believers, rather than these believers changing according to their faith.  Should the Church change its teachings on these matters to best suit its dissenting membership, it would cease to be the Church.

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