Conservative Catholics are very quick to accuse more “liberal” Catholics of picking and choosing to accept some, but not all, of Catholic teachings. Whether it is use of “artificial” birth control or not “attending” Mass every Sunday or questioning the Church’s position on same-sex behavior, liberals are dismissed as “cafeteria Catholics” choosing only those beliefs, norms and behaviors that they want to.
Well, conservative Catholics are also cafeteria Catholics; they just select other beliefs and norms to reject. Look at the large number of conservative Catholics today who resist the Vatican and American Bishops teachings on foreign policy, immigration and capital punishment! A very clear example of the latter is Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s clear-cut rejection of the Catholic teaching on Capital Punishment.
In an earlier post I remarked that the Church has always taught that the community / society has the right to defend itself against violent behavior that endangers individuals and the larger civic community, even the use of capital punishment under some extreme conditions,. Certainly since the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the “Church” has reaffirmed tradition, and with new insight into our contemporary situation, teaches that there is never justification for use of capital punishment in modern industrial and post-industrial societies. Why? The popes respond that there are other “less extreme” measures that accomplish the same goal: the protection of individuals and communities as a whole. One such measure is the penalty of Life in Prison Without Parole. This is what the Catechism says”
Today, in fact as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense of doing harm –-without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are extremely rare, if practically non-existent.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1997 edition. # 2267 par 3. See also Pope John Paul, II: Evangelim Vitae Par. 56).
Justice Antonin Scalia’s rejection of the Papal teaching on Capital Punishment.
Justice Scalia publicly rejected Papal teaching on Capital Punishment in Chicago on 25 January 2002, and again in February 2002 during an open forum at Georgetown University as reported by the Pew Research Center in “Scalia Calls Death Penalty Constitutional, Not Immoral” (See also: “Scalia questions Catholic stance on death penalty” USA Today 02/04/2002 [no longer online]).
At the Chicago meeting, Justice Scalia said a number of things that showed his opposition to Church teaching. Speaking as a strict constitutionalist, Scalia said. “the constitutionality of the death penalty is not a difficult soul-wrenching question.
In response to a question asking whether current practice violates the Eighth Amendment, Justice Scalia responded, “Does it [the death penalty] constitute cruel and unusual punishment? The answer is No.”
Especially in this response Justice Scalia tries to justify his rejection of the Pope’s teaching on the grounds that it is not old or traditional enough. Scalia is out of touch with the idea of the development [not wholesale change] of doctrine and that the Church has used an historically conscious method of doing social ethics at least since the late 1890s.As a Roman Catholic, Scalia disagrees with the recent teaching of the Catholic catechism and Evangelium Vitae “that the death penalty can only be imposed to protect rather than avenge,” and is therefore almost always wrong……. In fact Justice Scalia reacted to this statement by saying, This view [Canon 2267] is not a “position that Christianity has always maintained…There have Christian opponents of the death penalty just as there have been Christian pacifists, but neither of those positions has ever been predominant in the church.The Justice also said, “No authority that I know of denies the 2000-year-old tradition of the church approving capital punishment…I don’t see why there’s been a change.”
When asked whether or how his religious views came into play, Scalia, replied,
“I try mightily to prevent my religious views… from affecting my interpretation of the laws…. He continued, “The only one of my religious views that has anything to do with my job as a judge is the seventh commandment –thou shalt not lie.
My observations on Justice Scalia as a “Cafeteria” Catholic.
I do not at all question the sincerity of Antonin Scalia’s Faith. He attended Georgetown University and later taught there as a visiting professor. He is the father of nine children. He is a “strict constructionist” and one of the most conservative justices on the Court. He is 73 years old.
I have no quarrel with Justice Scalia as a man. I do feel, however, that he is an excellent example of a conservative Cafeteria Catholic. At least two characteristics help account for this situation. First, he does not believe that the US Constitution is a “living document” but rather it is an “enduring” document that must be read and interpreted just as it was written, sort of like inerrantist fundamentalist Christians understand the Bible. Second, whether he uses the word or not, he has a “classist” understanding of Law and his faith. A classist understands the world as unchanging, with universal norms both in principle and application. This view tends to be very static. It sees change as a negative thing and, therefore, is very hesitant to take into account specific contemporary sociocultural realities or ongoing human experience as relevant to moral decision making. That is why he doesn’t like to see the “change” in the Church’s understanding of the applicability of the practice of capital punishment.
My real point here is that conservative Catholics are very often “Cafeteria Catholics.” The major difference between a liberal and a conservative “Cafeteria Catholic” is the particular part(s) of Catholic teaching they choose to ignore or reject.
Another Cafeteria Catholic I know
For example, I blogged, emailed and IMed a Catholic young man for months and months. He was the first person to ever comment on one of my blog posts. He is very intelligent, funny, and deep down he is very tender. He loves his family unconditionally. He loves the Catholic Church as he understands it. Unfortunately right now he is very angry and presents himself as very close-minded. He seldom heard anything I ever said (because it was too complicated) and once he began to call me a “heretic,” a “pretend Catholic” and things like that, I was miffed and felt like he really couldn’t / wouldn’t be a dialogue partner any longer. I must admit I broke off what began as a good friendship with sadness and hurt feelings.
But this man, who so defends the “Church” in some areas, is a Cafeteria Catholic. In a previous blog he operated, he showed by what he wrote that he was unable to accept the Vatican and American Bishops’ positions on immigration and health care, or foreign policy.
So in the end, continually voicing, and screaming by Conservative Catholics that Vatican II, liberal or progressive Catholics are unfaithful to the Church is to say the least, not helpful and will be one more thing to drive people out of the Church.
Comments are welcome here!!!