What’s Killing American Catholicism – 3

Sorry for the break from blogging, but parish and family life have been very busy this last week.

What’s killing American Catholicism? This is the third part of a series. The problems all begin with the letter ‘C’. The first part was Cultural Catholicism. The problem when people are more cultural than Catholic. The Catholic faith transcends culture, and if it is linked too closely to culture, when the immigrant stops being Italian (or Irish or Polish) he stops being Catholic–or worse–he adapts Catholicism to his American culture just as he adapted it to his former culture. Cultural Catholicism is countered by Comprehensive Catholicism–a Catholic understanding that affirms what is good in culture, but also transcends all cultures.

The second ‘C’ was Complacent Catholicism. A certain laziness in the faith which is rooted in American individualism and materialism. It’s countered by Compassionate Catholicism.

The third ‘C’ is Cafeteria Catholicism. Cafeteria Catholics pick and choose what they  like about the faith. Do they think the Sunday Mass obligation is binding? Not if it is inconvenient. If their marriage breaks down they get divorced and re-married like everyone else. Do they think they should refrain from communion if they re-marry? Nah. That doesn’t apply to them. Is co-habitation wrong? Everybody does it. Do they still want a white wedding with all the trimmings and a schmaltzy sermon from Father about their beautiful love? Sure! What about Catholic beliefs? Transubstantiation? That’s medieval isn’t it? We know it’s just a symbol now. Homosex marriage? Why not? Women priests? The church needs to get with the times.

Cafeteria Catholicism is rooted in two basic problems. The first is a foundational relativism. What I mean by “foundational relativism” is the sort of relativism that is simply woven into American culture. Nobody thinks about it or discusses it. It is just there as a founding principle of the American worldview. This relativism can be stated as “I know what’s best for me” or “everybody has their own truth–what works for you doesn’t work for me.” Nobody thinks this through. It’s just part of the American air we breathe, but it’s poisonous air when it comes to the practice of the Catholic faith.

The other thing which has exacerbated the problem of Cafeteria Catholicism is a poor understanding and poor exercise of Church authority. Too many Catholics regard the teaching of the Catholic Church to be a sort of arcane theory of life for saintly people–not something for ordinary folks like them. They have a vague notion that the Pope is infallible, but see no real reason or way that the Church speaks to them in their ordinary life. Why is this? Because too many priests have been dishing out saccharine Oprah Winfrey self help homilies rather than teaching the faith.

Furthermore–and the most damning–they have seen the clergy and bishops living just like all the other materialistic compromising American Catholics. To often the clergy and bishops themselves have not lived the life they profess and preach. Why should the people take the authority of the church seriously when their own clergy and bishops don’t seem to take it seriously? They have been picking and choosing which parts of Catholic faith and practice they want to observe. Why should the laity be any different?

Cafeteria Catholicism, then is rooted in a deep and abiding worldliness in the  American Catholic Church. What’s the answer? Complete Catholicism. By “complete” I mean whole and perfect. I mean radiant lives of disciples of Jesus Christ that are conformed totally and completely to his will and to the loving teachings of the church. Don’t misunderstand. I am not talking about some sort of legalistic approach in which all compromising Catholics will be forced to sign a confession of faith and observe all the rules and regulations of the Catholic faith. That kind of legalism kills just as much as Cafeteria Catholicism kills.

Instead I’m calling for lives that are completely committed to Christ and his church out of love, enthusiasm and an indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I’m talking about disciples of Christ who, every day of their lives, are turning again away from themselves to draw closer to Christ, to follow him more completely in joy and to be transformed daily more and more into his likeness. Then there will not be a question of picking and choosing which bits of Catholicism they like. Instead they will cry out with St Therese, “I will have all!” They will embrace the wholeness of the Catholic truth because it is a beautiful, complete and dynamic map for the spiritual life.

This Complete Catholicism is the only thing which can challenge the lukewarmness and compromise of the Cafeteria Catholics. It is the only thing which will win the battle and win the world.


Should the Catholic Church be Up to Date?
The Christian Holocaust Continues
Disneyland, Desire and Destiny
All Are Welcome…Really?
  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    You know, Fr. D? I have the impression that though the sources of the malaises that assail the Church in the US are in the American culture, the solutions that you proposed are universal, true antidotes for whatever malaises plague the faith in this or that culture.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rick.connor.73 Rick Connor

    I needed to hear this today. I’ve been pretty discouraged the last few days with the issues of a bishop drinking and driving, another allowing a priest with a history of child abuse to continue to minister to children, and people accusing Catholic schools of being homophobic. It’s hard to remember to focus on my on on-going conversion and need for penance. Thanks for reminding me.

  • PJ

    AMEN Fr. Longenecker! AMEN indeed!

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Pretty good, but one of my big complaints is that the Cafeteria Catholicism of the sexual libertines on the liberal left, is pretty well balanced by the Cafeteria Catholicism of the fiscal libertines on the neo-conservative crony capitalist right. When such luminaries as Thomas E. Woods and Fr Robert Sirico can preach to the world that the Pope is incompetent in matters of economics just because Caritas In Veritate doesn’t support the wonders of morality-free invisible hand capitalism, they are engaging in Cafeteria Catholicism *just as much* as when Archbishop Weakland came out of the closet as a sexually active homosexual.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    No, economics is not part of Church teaching, so it’s not cafeteria Catholicism to question papal pronouncements on economics; people are free to disagree with the pope about it.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    If Papal Pronouncements are not a part of Church Teaching, what is?

    Are you saying the Pope isn’t a valid part of the Magisterium? That seems rather cafeteria catholicism in and of itself, regardless of the subject matter you are trying to ignore.

    Economics has been a part of Church teaching explicitly since Matthew wrote chapters 20-25 of his Gospel, likely a couple of decades after Christ.

    The modern Papal Pronouncements that you seem to think aren’t a part of Church teaching stretch back to Rerum Novarum in 1891, the direct response to socialism. I suggest you read them.


  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Rerum Novarum was not a response to the economics of Socialism, but to its morals, or lack thereof. The Church does not teach about every field of human knowledge, only about faith and morals.

    But let’s think about a different situation. If the pope recommended an iPhone over an Android phone would it be Church teaching?

    Outside of faith and morals, the Church Magisterium is mute.

  • ArgyleEuphoria

    I agree that both left and right can be called out for cafeteria Catholicism, but I would have chosen the death penalty or war as examples. Free market capitalism has done more to improve the lot of the average person than any charity or government. A robust free market is the best poverty elimination program.

    Which is why I chafe when I see complaints about cafeteria Catholicism. Frankly, the Pope might be wrong about economics, or a number of other things. And he might even be wrong about church doctrine from time to time. Reasonable people can disagree. Dismissing dissenters as cafeteria Catholics dampens the diversity and progress of the church. I think it’s impossible to find an organization whose members agree 100% with the group. If we we didn’t have different perspectives, what would be the point? We’re all human and imperfect. What matters is that we love Christ, his church, and each other. Reasonable disagreements allowed.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Economics is morality. And it depends on why.

    A dollar is just a tool, but it can be wielded as a weapon.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I’ve never seen a robust free market in my lifetime. The only difference between a libertarian and a crony capitalist to me is whether or not they have enough money piled up to buy the politicians.

  • ArgyleEuphoria

    Such cynicism! I’d suggest that most advancements in society are a result of free markets, however imperfect. Crony capitalism is a problem, but imperfect capitalism is preferable to no capitalism at all.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    True. Better that 60% of the people are allowed to own property than 0%. But things were far better back in the 900s when 100% of the people were allowed to own personal property, even though they were much poorer and things like the black death would sweep through and kill half of society off. At least in the pre-modern world, we had virtue. Even the lowest peasant was allowed to just take off and become a pilgrim if God called it.

    Technology is a poor trade off for virtue.

    I am extremely cynical these days about the cries for freedom and liberty, when worldwide we’re losing 46,000,000 people a year to sexual liberty, when we’re seeing wage slavery in the third world so bad from fiscal liberty that it takes a fire in a factory for us to even NOTICE.

    Economic systems don’t scale. The maximum free market size is three degrees of friendship, beyond that, corruption and anonymity destroy the free market. If you don’t know who sewed your shirt, how do you know that they’re earning enough to feed their family?

  • wineinthewater

    Papal pronouncements on economics aren’t on economic theory, they are on the mortality of economic systems. And that is well within the purview of Catholic teaching. When the Church says that this aspect of this economic system is prone to that immorality, we *are* obliged to listen and learn. The Church doesn’t teach about economic theory, she teaches about the morals of economic activity. She may not be authoritative on “economics” but she is authoritative on morality, even as it applies to economics.

  • wineinthewater

    I’d disagree. Capitalism is certain one of the best systems, but I think it has too many propensities for abuse to be the best. Unfortunately, capitalism is very prone to sin and I would say that capitalism as it has been realized in our fallen world has done more to promote poverty than alleviate it.

    I think one of the problems we run into when we think of the merits of Capitalism is that we forget that no market is free. Composed as it is of people, every market is a slave to sin and no market is truly free. This is why the freest markets are those regulated by rules rooted in Christian principles, not those that are unregulated. Considering the morality of capitalism depends so much on the morality of its participants, we would be very unwise to put too much faith in it.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    No, that’s incorrect. We the example of Paul VI, who recommended the absurd economic policy of foreign aid in Populorum Progressio, which can be summed up as taking from the poor in rich countries to give to the rich in poor countries. Not only didn’t it make any economic sense and thus didn’t yield the expected results, but enshrined structures of sin that impoverished poor countries.

    The fact is that economics is just a field of knowledge subject to prudential judgement and not even a pope may make moral statements about it. Therefore, even papal pronouncements on economics are nothing but clericalism, with all the evils that it ensues.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Your solution is the cause of the corruption of the free market: those cozy to the state write the regulations that keep competition out and therefore the market less free.

    BTW, capitalism, as an object, is neither moral nor immoral; only people, subjects, can act and judge actions, so only people can be moral or immoral. For instance, people may drive charitably or not, morally or not, but driving itself is neither, because it’s an object and has no free will of its own.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Then again, you’re only willing to pay so much for a shirt, so perhaps you’re the culprit. :-) Do you buy your shirts from a personal tailor? I doubt that you’d be able to afford the shirts that he makes while feeding his family.

    Perhaps you buy your shirts from a store, which took dozens of people to make happen, from sewing the seeds of the plant from which the fiber was obtained to taking your money at the store. Somehow, all along this chain, people freely engaged in commerce and got what they thought was more valuable than what they gave away, be it a shirt for your money or labor for a salary. Weren’t it so, that you valued a shirt more than what you paid for it and the seller valued your money more than a shirt, no commerce would have freely taken place.

    If someone laborer is not getting enough to feed his family either he’s being coerced to work, AKA slavery, or he’s fine with it because he has another job or his children complement the family income. In the first case, it’s a free labor market, in the second, he seems to be fine with it, so leave him alone.

    It’s like those busybodies scandalized at workers abroad being paid $5 a day by an American company. They ignore that it’s often a wage far above the prevailing local wages and that people literally fight to get one of these jobs, where one can feed all of his family and then some for $5 a day. IOW, a classic case of a Narcissistic culture that constantly seeks to recognize itself, not the other.

  • wineinthewater

    Populorum Progressio took the fundamental Catholic principles of solidarity and the common good and stated that they applied to nations as well as individuals.

    When foreign aid amounts to taking from the poor in rich countries and giving it to the rich in poor countries – which I do not deny it can, but I do deny that it is inherently so – then it is because the particular foreign aid policy has ignored Populorum Progressio, not because it has followed it. Populorum Progressio constantly appeals to Catholic principles about charity, solidarity, the common good and the universal destination of goods. These other Catholic teachings, in addition to what is in PP itself, are a bulwark against the corruption of foreign aid that you rightly decry.

    Populorum Progressio makes few specific policy endorsements. It lays out principles that prudential judgement must then put into concrete action. But those fundamental principles are not the realm of prudential judgement, they are an expression of Catholic belief.

    This does not mean that bishops and priests have not (even often) put their feet in their mouths when it comes to the prudential application of Catholic principles to actual actions and policies. It is woefully common for Catholic clerics to conflate specific policies or theories from a specialized field (like economics) with Catholic teaching. This is certainly just another kind of clericism. But when it comes to encyclicals, we should not be so quick to dismiss.

  • wineinthewater

    Your response does not really address anything that I wrote.

    I agree that capitalism is neither moral or immoral. I may not have said it explicitly, but I think I made it reasonably clear by pointing out that the morality of capitalism is dependent on the morality of its participants.

    Additionally, I did not promote regulation generically. Regulation itself is also neither moral or immoral. It’s morality depends on how it regulates. I was clear that regulation of markets must be rooted in Christian principles. This would exclude the kind of crony or social engineering regulation that would cripple a market rather than the kind of sensible regulation that keeps a market freer by protecting it from the impacts of sinful actions.

    And this is part of the problem. The Church says something specific, rooted in Catholic teaching, morality and worldview. But so often, those things get mangled to fit some ideological shibboleth and deprived of their true content.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    “Then again, you’re only willing to pay so much for a shirt, so perhaps you’re the culprit. :-) Do you buy your shirts from a personal tailor? I doubt that you’d be able to afford the shirts that he makes while feeding his family.”

    That just means we need to pay people more. Everybody should be able to support their local tailor, if we believe Pope Leo XIII. Not to pay enough wages so that everybody can support their local tailor, is the very definition of unpaid wages. It isn’t a free labor market unless the value of labor is equal to what is needed for *everybody* to survive.

    Just because a worker fights to be a slave, doesn’t make him any less of a slave.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Competition is a lie. It is always just collusion between crony capitalists, which is why the price of gasoline is always within one cent on opposite corners of an intersection.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Then why don’t you pay more for a shirt if that’s all that it takes? Forget not that you and the tailor are the market. You set the price of the shirt and therefore of his wages by the price that you are willing to pay for it. So, why don’t you start paying, say, twice for the gas you pump and the thrice for the groceries you buy, so that people may earn enough wages? Of course, others who ignore economic mechanisms will just suggest that more money be printed to pay fair wages, which, of course, has not only never worked in history, but actually destroyed economies. And even if a pope says this, he’s debasing the papacy by proclaiming wishful thoughts, as even he cannot abolish the law gravity or the the law of supply and demand.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Do you really believe this? Have you ever seen the station owners meet or text each other to settle on a price? And why a cent difference, why not the same price? Is that what you do when you negotiate your salary when changing jobs, you call other workers to collude, or does your new employer collude with your previous one? Do you really believe this?

  • TheodoreSeeber

    If competition really worked, the richer station owner would run at a loss at a price the other station could never match, until the other station went out of business.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    “Then why don’t you pay more for a shirt if that’s all that it takes?”

    Tried that. Not enough people did it, and the tailor went out of business, undercut by half at the shirts from Wal*Mart.

    “You set the price of the shirt and therefore of his wages by the price that you are willing to pay for it.”” So, why don’t you start paying, say, twice for the gas you pump and the thrice for the groceries you buy, so that people may earn enough wages?”

    I have already joined a CSA and would join a local refinery if there was one. Direct buying is by far the better model.

    ” Of course, others who ignore economic mechanisms will just suggest that more money be printed to pay fair wages, which, of course, has not only never worked in history, but actually destroyed economies. And even if a pope says this, he’s debasing the papacy by proclaiming wishful thoughts, as even he cannot abolish the law gravity or the the law of supply and demand.”

    The law of supply and demand is carefully limited by artificially lowering supply. We left it behind when we left scarcity behind in the 1930s.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Again, do you really believe this? Have you ever run a business? Why would a gas station owner run a competitor out of business at great cost that would take years to pay off while risking an even richer owner buying the other gas station?

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    The tailor wasn’t undercut by Wal*Mart, but by you who bought the shirt there instead of from the tailor. Did Wal*Mart put a gun to your head to buy there or did you just prefer to pay less for the same shirt?

    Wait, you mean that there’s no more scarcity in the world since the 1930s? Why do people go hungry right here in the US then if food has been as abundant as air since the 1930s?

    Honestly, repeating cliches worthy of the Occupy Wall St movement as though they were Catholic teaching is rather silly. Instead, I recommend you to read the Scholastics on economics, who posited that the Christian thing to do is to have truly free markets and that they are not driven by greed, but by the proper stewardship of scarce resources in an imperfect world. Throwing a tantrum that we can perfect this world by human fiat is the kind of tragedy that very many unchristian utopias tried before.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    ” Did Wal*Mart put a gun to your head to buy there or did you just prefer to pay less for the same shirt so that you could stretch your own wages and thus provide better for your family?”

    Everybody else preferred to pay less, and thus I lost the tailor, since my business alone wasn’t enough to keep him in business.

    But that hasn’t stopped me one whit. Recently, I needed a belt to go with my Knights of Columbus Belt Buckle. Time was short- so I turned to a man who had just started DAleather.com as his retirement business- he lives just a few blocks from me. Knowing that I was leaving for the State Convention the next Friday- he measured me on Saturday and delivered, in person, to my place of business. Did I pay twice as much for the belt? Yes, but it was worth it- and it’s real leather, not that crappy chinese genuine leather, so I know it will last me a lifetime.

    “Wait, you mean that there’s no more scarcity in the world since the 1930s? Why do people go hungry right here in the US then if food has been as abundant as air since the 1930s?”

    Because, due to subsidies, the supply is kept artificially low to boost the demand price. If we truly raised all the food that we are capable of raising, AND used modern preservation methods, within the next 30 years we could provide the entire world with a 27 year supply of food with a shelf life to match, while feeding the entire world.

    But we don’t because of the abuse of the law of supply and demand.

    “Instead, I recommend you to read the Scholastics on economics, who posited that the Christian thing to do is to have truly free markets and that they are not driven by greed, but by the proper stewardship of scarce resources in an imperfect world. ”

    We haven’t had scarce resources overall, at least for food, clothing, shelter, and labor, in over 70 years. We have artificial scarcity driven by greed.

    If you want proper stewardship, then what we need to do is work toward universal productive property ownership. Which, oddly enough, is where I started in this thread- with complaining that even capitalism, while *significantly* better than communism on this topic, doesn’t even approach feudalism in the relationship between man and land, with less than 60% ownership of productive real estate.

    Even in feudalism, where rightfully, the peasant belonged to the land rather than the land belonging to the peasant, at least every man had a garden to feed his family with. Under Capitalism this isn’t so.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I’ve run businesses- and the richer owner isn’t going to buy the other gas station, because the ROR is too low. Truly rich people only invest in schemes that feature:
    1. No work on their part
    2. A significant rate of return (note that WalMart in my previous example depends on using foreign labor for a 1000% markup!)
    3. Low wages

    Gas stations- especially a gas station with a true competitor next door willing to do *anything* to compete- are a notoriously bad investment.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    If YOU can afford a custom belt it doesn’t mean that others can or care. Many would rather pay less and get a belt on the same day. You don’t mind paying for this privilege, but others do and would rather have cheaper, faster choices over quality and service. These are the choices, but you seem to be willing to disregard the particular conditions and preferences of others as wrong, perhaps out of that utopian notion that you are the measure of all things and behaviors.

    Not everywhere in the world has food subsidies. That’s a problem typical of rich countries that make food more expensive to their peoples because they can afford it. But it’s a pretty well-known fact that the problem with food is not its production, but its transportation, which can be far more expensive than its production. It has nothing to do with markets, just the reality of perishable foods. And, no, Americans may be fine with industrialized food, but most people around the world reject it for fresher and healthier foods.

    I really think that you speak like a typical American: the world is much bigger than it and there are numerous shortages of resources and goods all over the world.

    Feudalism had its virtues, but working the land is hard toil. Many peasants freely preferred a 14-hour day of a monotonous work in a factory over breaking their back working the land and for more money, so they could eat better and be healthier, which the data proves to be the case, romantic notions about the land aside.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    So you mean one of the richest men in the world, Bill Gates, is not truly rich, since he worked his behind off for decades, make a good return on what sold like hot cakes and paid handsome wages to his workers?

    Interesting. With such puerile notions, no wonder your views on economics are so skewed. Evidently, reading Chesterton or Belloc doesn’t make one well-read in economics.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Bill Gates invested his Father’s wealth ($100,000 loan to start out to buy CP/M) and then marketed other people’s ideas. He hasn’t worked a real day in his life and hasn’t coded anything since Altair Basic.

    His workers should have been earning TWICE as much given what he was taking from them. Not to mention all the great inventors he ran roughshod over along the way.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    I think that you just showed your prejudices again, but adding the injustice of calumny, a mortal sin: Bill Gates worked like a maniac until his stepping down as CEO (I know, I assisted people who dealt with Gates personally).

    But this is quite tiresome. Enough of it.

    PS: Gates never bought CP/M, but 86-DOS, a CP/M look-alike written by an individual contractor.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    It still wasn’t coding. And I have very little to no respect for salesmen and investors.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jpcullen70 Patrick Cullen

    I agree completely with your post. I’d add a 4th “C” to your posts and say Catecheis, poor catecheis in the past 40 years. So many Catholics don’t know the true faith because they have never heard the true faith coming from the pulpit or from the religious education classes. That certainly has been a contributor to the other “C’s” you wrote about. Keep up all your good work.

  • Steve

    timely word in season

  • Howard

    I am surrounded, friends and family, by born Catholics who don’t practice at all. Cafeteria Catholicism would be a welcome step up for most of them.