I am a Cafeteria Catholic.

There.  I’ve  said it.

I selectively accept my Church’s teachings, accepting almost all of the 2,861 paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But there are a few points of doctrine that just don’t smell right, and as a result, I choose not to partake. Technically, that makes me a Cafeteria Catholic.

First – a more formal definition.

A Cafeteria Catholic is a generally dismissive term applied to folks who appear to ‘pick and choose’ the elements of Church teaching that apply to one’s personal situation – turning aside teachings and doctrine that are either disagreeable or inconvenient while accepting views that are consistent with one’s own world-view. It is generally accepted that the term Cafeteria Catholic came into widespread use after Vatican Council II in the mid 1960’s, when some interpretations of the Council’s writings led to reforms and changes that digressed from conventional views. As new ideas vied for the soul of the Church and some new views replaced the old perspectives, it became commonplace to infer that some folks were selecting only the parts of Catholicism that were easy to believe while turning aside the teachings that challenge us.

I admit, if the definition is valid, saying I’m a Cafeteria Catholic makes me feel a bit shallow. But it shouldn’t be a sin to ask questions, and the kitchen staff shouldn’t glare at me when I point to something and ask ‘what’s in this?’

And even a Cafeteria Catholic can speak when he fears for the health of his Church when something in the fridge starts to smell bad.

The 2008 Pew Forum Report on Religion in America identifies the Catholic Church as the Christian denomination that suffered the largest net loss due to changes in affiliation (people leaving the Church for another – or no tradition). Some 31% of Americans were raised Catholic but 24% of American adults identify themselves as Catholic, a net loss of 7.5%. The numbers regarding the raw size of the Church would be far worse if it weren’t for Her strong showing among immigrants.

While the number of candidates for priesthood is slightly rising (about 0.5%), the growth of the Church in absolute numbers (thanks again to immigration trends) is stressing the Church’s ability to shepherd Her flock.

And of course, I continue to cringe every time another charge of sexual abuse makes its way into the media, wondering who on earth was watching these men all these years?

For all the problems of the Church, I don’t see a recovering vibrant resurgence in (what I see) as the Church’s shift to the right – restatement of doctrines that dismiss the role of family conscience, policies that seem to substitute ruling for leading, recent trends to re-emphasize elements of the Tridentine (Latin) Mass and other efforts that lead the Church to look at the world as She did in the good old days – say 1570 or so. (Any other Catholics scratching their heads over that line ‘consubstantial with the Father’?)

I am concerned over hints at a revisionist view that the Vatican Council II was an unfortunate concession to modernity that caused the decline of the Church in Western nations, an accident that needs repairing.

I believed in VC-II’s message, I stayed, rather than strayed, because of how the Liturgy became something that connected with me. The Church’s ‘liberal’ views made me more aware and sensitive to the global house in which God works. The examples the Church set during the following years, particularly in confronting real evil in Central America and Eastern Europe, are true testaments to Christ’s work on this earth. And on a personal level, VC-II enlightened me to believe in a God that wasn’t as much interested in damning me as in loving and wanting me for who I am.

For some reason, a few folks on the kitchen staff want to pull this serving from the menu.

I have chosen to write this blog with one intention – to drive respectful dialog and lay the foundation for meaningful changes (or reinforcement of Christ-centered doctrines) that allow the Catholic Church to be the tradition of choice for all peoples, cultures, and backgrounds – including those from industrialized, highly democratized nations (the last category of which, for some reason, is a problem for the Church).

I am NOT an anti-church guy. The Pope’s clarity in calling attention to the evils of uncontrolled capitalism, his clear language on the morally doomed nature of the illegal drug industry, and the honestly good work done by millions of the faithful lay makes a real difference in this world.

And I also recognize that there are some who feel that everyone would be better off if I (and folks like me) just pack up and leave – go find some other tradition that ‘fits my needs.’

I don’t think I’ll do that.

I was born Catholic, raised in a Catholic family, attended Catholic elementary school and high school. I completed my graduate degree at a Catholic College. I was raised during the initial years following Vatican Council II and taught that Christ’s love was, and always will be the light for my life’s path, even while I sometimes wandered into darkness.

I was taught to question, to search, and to always seek the better answer to life’s important questions. That lesson was taught to me by Catholic educators and Catholic pastors who, through the grace of God, managed to keep me in the flock.

No, I deserve a place at the Catholic table as much as anyone else. I will not be one of the millions of Catholic-born faithful who choose to leave the Church. Leaving would be the easiest, ‘most convenient’ thing for me to do.  I choose not to do that.

I’m a Cafeteria Catholic. I embrace the main course of belief in the Creed (once I figure out what ‘consubstantial means’), the Ten Commandments, Sermon on the Mount, and sanctity of the sacraments. I will even pick some things that I know are good for me, even if I may not ‘like’ donating to the poor and confessing my sins to a stranger.

But there is a reason why some selections along this serving line have been lying under the warming lamp way too long. In future writings, I’ll be chatting about those unwanted items that look like they’ve been around since the last Woolworth cafeteria closed. And when I see something being removed from the menu, something that made me a stronger, better Catholic, I insist on asking ‘where you going with that?’

The Church has nourished and sustained me all my life. It has made me what I am and I want desperately for Her to thrive. But the Church is made of humans who sometimes don’t do their best (anyone watching Food Network Challenge knows even the best chefs sometime screw up). Just because this cafeteria staff doesn’t really need to care about ‘market forces’ (it is a bit hierarchical), doesn’t mean it should dismiss leftovers solely as the result of choices by customers who aren’t good enough.

I’m a Cafeteria Catholic.

I’m not leaving the serving line.

And I want to talk to the management.

Next Month – Conscience  and Faith.

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