The Observer—Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford
Publication date: March 3, 2006
By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
A group calling itself “Catholics for Faithful Citizenship (CFC),” recently issued a press release on the newly elected House Majority Leader, John Boehner (R-Ohio). CFC referred to Boehner as a “cafeteria Catholic”—a term usually reserved for Catholics who reject one or more of the moral teachings of the Church. I was certain that John Boehner had a 100% pro-life voting record, but then again, perhaps my memory was failing.
A brief search revealed that Boehner does, indeed, have a 100% pro-life voting record and, according to NARAL and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, a 0% pro-choice voting record. Boehner had written a letter on January 17, 2006 in which he clearly stated his acceptance of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life “completely, totally, and without equivocation.”
Why then, does CFC refer to Boehner as a “cafeteria Catholic”? While I had always thought I understood what that label meant, I did a quick internet search and found 42,900 entries for “cafeteria Catholic.” There were a number of definitions, but the generally accepted one is someone who picks and chooses which doctrines they will accept or reject. Typically, those who proudly call themselves “cafeteria Catholics” accept most of the social teachings of the Church, but reject one or more of the moral teachings—usually the prohibition on abortion, contraception, non-marital sex, embryonic stem cell research, assisted suicide, or homosexual activity.
I could find no evidence that Boehner rejected any of these teachings, so why was he being called a “cafeteria Catholic”? In a news release, CFC writes, “Boehner like most cafeteria Catholics, has made the decision to use his Catholicism to rally support around a single issue; abortion.” Now, there’s a leap of logic. Boehner is following the official teachings of the Church as conveyed by the Catechism and the USCCB statement, Faithful Citizenship (from which CFC gets its name) and he gets labeled “cafeteria Catholic.”
By now, I’m wondering how CFC would evaluate a 100% pro-abortion politician who calls himself Catholic. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) comes to mind. Sure enough, CFC describes Kennedy as someone who “has long been a friend of the least among us.” Kennedy, a friend of the unborn? Nonsense. Let’s not forget that Sen. Kennedy (who has a 100% pro-abortion NARAL voting record) voted against a ban on partial birth abortion—a procedure so gruesome that even many pro-abortion congressmen voted for the ban.
When references can be found on the internet referring to Archbishop Burke and Cardinal George as “cafeteria Catholics,” you know ultimately, this is not about labels. It is about whether Catholics really believe and follow the teachings of the Church. The question is whether Catholics profess a belief and adherence to the Church or to their own views? If we are to be faithful Catholics, we cannot choose to believe what we want to believe and ignore those teachings where we think the Church is wrong. It’s one thing not to fully understand what those teachings are, but it’s a totally different situation to reject them.
Our final authority must be the authentic, authoritative, enduring and unchangeable teaching of the Church that can be found in the Catechism. The prologue to that document states, “This catechism aims at presenting an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church’s tradition.”
In John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter approving and promulgating the Catechism, he writes that the Catechism “is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium…[it is] a full, complete exposition of catholic doctrine, enabling everyone to know what the Church professes, celebrates, lives, and prays in her daily life.”
If you are in the cafeteria, get a huge serving of the Catechism. You will never go back to the buffet again.