What’s wrong with being a “cafeteria Catholic”? Why does one have to believe everything the Church says even though one may not agree with it?

 Soumya Prakash, McAllen, USA

A cafeteria Catholic is defined as one who picks and chooses what Catholic teaching he/she wants to believe. Catholics are not free to choose which teachings (on faith and morals) to accept and which to reject. Even when the Church has not spoken on a matter of faith or moral definitively, the faithful must give “a religious submission of the intellect and will” to its teachings (CIC 752).

The Canon Law clearly outlines the laws that are applicable to Catholics. According to it, “those baptized are fully in the communion of the Catholic Church on this earth who are joined with Christ in its visible structure by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical governance” (CIC 205). Communion is a concept that means, among other things, sharing in the faith received from the Apostles, that is, the faith as articulated and proclaimed by the magisterium. Fully in communion with the Catholic Church means having faith in everything she proposes as worthy of faith. “The Christian faithful, even in their own manner of acting, are always obliged to maintain communion with the Church” (CIC 209). Hence, communion is a sign of unity with the Church, and one can’t be in unity if one dissents the teaching Office of the Church (CIC 748 – 754; CCC 949).

The truths the Catholic Church teaches are so profound and rich that perhaps only a few saints have fully comprehended them. What is important to remember is that Catholic belief does not consist in understanding everything the Church teaches, but of affirming it and pledging one’s life on the quest to understand it and live it. The teachings of the Church are not sound bites or slogans; some are mysteries so full of depth and wonder, that in this life we can only begin to explore them. Moreover, the Catholic Church does not expect everyone to have perfect faith or knowledge and to fully understand every jot and title. Yet the Church expects a humble submission to that which has been established and held from the beginning.

Often times humanists, Protestants, or cafeteria Catholics come up with the idea of “thinking for oneself”, which can be challenging for some Catholics. In fact, the Church does not confine a person in his thinking, but helps him grow. The Catholic thinks for himself but has the privilege of linking that thinking to the work of great philosophers, holy men and women, and ordinary persons from all over the globe. Rather than prohibiting us from thinking, the Church merely asks that we not store up our thinking, but contribute it to the great storehouse of thinking, that is the Church. Above all, we need to keep in mind that the Catholic way of thinking is a more facinating and fruitful way of thinking than just thinking for one self.


Fr Bitaju Mathew, O.SS.T. belongs to the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives (Trinitarians). He serves as the secretary Vice Provincial of the Order in India and is currently Chaplain of the Jesus Youth International Formation Team.