The New Breed of Cafeteria Catholics

One of Ross Douthat’s friends is crowing:

“NOW it’s your turn to be part of the loyal opposition,” a fellow Catholic journalist said to me earlier this year, as Pope Francis’s agenda was beginning to take shape.

Now, he cheerfully suggested, right-leaning Catholics like me would get a taste of the same experience, from a pope who seemed intent on skirting the culture war and stressing the church’s mission to the poor instead.

I’ve been characterized on at least two Catholic blogs as belonging to the loyal opposition through the first decade of the new century. I don’t think I’ve hidden that posture. While I oppose abortion, I dissent from the political pro-life views that their suggestions, methods, and policies will either reduce abortions to zero and/or are as infallible as Pius XII in ’50. Pretty much the shield Mr Douthat’s “loyal opposition” uses as a way to dissent from public policy in economics.

So pardon me if I don’t see much difference in the cafeteria line. Mr Douthat does align with the view that all Catholics should be taking Evangelii Gaudium seriously:

(T)his is where Francis’s vision should matter to American Catholics who usually cast ballots for Republican politicians. The pope’s words shouldn’t inspire them to convert en masse to liberalism…

Nobody’s asking or expecting that.

or to worry that the throne of Peter has been seized by a Marxist anti-pope.

If they do, it will continue to be entertaining, in a soap opera-ish kind of way.

But they should encourage a much greater integration of Catholic and conservative ideas than we’ve seen since “compassionate conservatism” collapsed, and inspire Catholics to ask more — often much more — of the Republican Party, on a range of policy issues.

That would be a good development. Because I haven’t seen a lot of Catholicism in a lot of my more conservative friends, especially the ones of a political bent. All too often, it’s been a political stance in search of a Catholic proof text.

Concluding …

the challenge for conservative Catholics is to do somewhat better in our turn, and to spend the Francis era not in opposition but seeking integration — meaning an economic vision that remains conservative, but in the details reminds the world that our Catholic faith comes first.

I can’t argue with this. I’m far from being a political man, at least beyond the local level. Integration is a good value, and I think the Church has been weakened somewhat in the exodus of some conservatives into their enclaves–they’ve always been welcomed in my parishes, committees, and ministries. And I appreciate people for whom their Catholic faith indeed comes first. Which isn’t to say there aren’t sincere and faithful liberals and conservatives who mis-aim a bit and put their faith second behind their politics. Faith is still on the list for many of them, to be sure.

Mr Douthat dismisses cafeteria Catholicism a bit too eagerly when the term associates with his political allies. I wouldn’t worry so much about it. Every good Catholic picks through the cafeteria line in some way. Not too much different from every good Catholic being a sinner. But one’s engagement in life and in faith always involves choices. Choices are made in alignment with our gifts and abilities, our opinions and the way the world touches our lives. And later, choices are made with a deeper discernment, more attuned to Christ and his mission.

If Mr Douthat and his confreres are willing to go a little deeper, all the better for them and all of the Church.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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