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Pope Francis and American Cafeteria Catholics: a Revisiting
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2015-09-28 11:53:43
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Pope Francis addressing a Joint Meeting of Congress on Thursday 24 of September 2015
where he referenced four  guides for the current political impasse of the US:
Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton

This essay on Pope Francis, which follows his recent visit to the US, is meant as a follow-up to some of the issues mentioned in two other recent essays. The interested reader may retrieve them at the following links: “Pope Francis on World Climate Change” at http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/12461, and “The Real Debate: Pope Francis vs. a Dehumanizing Kind of Capitalism” at (http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/12660).

I wish to revisit the issue of the “cafeteria Catholics” or the sort of Catholics who selectively choose and pick what they like of the teaching and the doctrine of the Catholic Church. The selection is usually in favor of what is most convenient to their personal life or their political ideology.

There are 70 million Catholics in the US, so it is not surprising that 8 of the 15 Republicans currently running for president in the Republican party are Catholics. Most of them consider themselves “good Catholics” in as much as they often invoke their faith to justify their ethical and political positions on abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, marriage. They also chastise those Catholics who dissent from the Vatican on those particular issues which they consider universally applicable. One of the more outspoken of those candidates, Marco Rubio is in the habit of mocking liberals who “ignore multiple pronouncements of this pope on the definition of marriage and the sanctity of life.”  


     Chris Christie                 Ted Cruz                      Bobby Jindal                   John Kasich


     George Pataki               Marco Rubio                  Rick Santorum                      Jeb Bush

Eight of the Fifteen Republican Presidential Candidates are Catholics

But low and behold, those same republicans listed above have now a problem with Pope Francis who just visited the US and dared place on the Church’s agenda other more uncongenial issues to be discussed; all issues, by the way, which are integral part of the cultural patrimony of the Catholic Church. He has introduced the issue of a destructive type of capitalism, peace through diplomacy, the abolition of capital punishment, climate change (the subject of his first encyclical), environmental protection, distributive justice, compassion for refugees and emigrants, distributive justice. How have the republicans responded to those challenges? With sheer hypocrisy: adopting the very same evasive tactics which they have attributed to Democrats when it comes to issues with which they agree with the Pope.

Here is a brief enumeration of those dubious tactics: both Jindal and Santorum have accused the pope of engaging in public relation maneuvers in order to gain more faithfuls. In other words, no need to take those pronouncements too seriously as part of the Church’s teaching. The pope does not really mean them, it is just bait.


Both Christie and Santorum have accused the Pope of not understanding political matters of policy. Besides, says Christie, his infallibility is only on religious matters, not political ones and one is free to disagree with him as in the case of the Cuba-US reconciliation. That is to say, as soon as religious edicts threaten republican economic or foreign policies, they are promptly dismissed as naïve. This is very much the style of “cafeteria style Catholics” on both sides of the fence.


Another tactic is that of claiming that the pope’s views are just personal views. Jeb Bush has utilized this tactic. In his commencement address at Liberty University on May 9, Bush ridiculed politicians who claimed their moral convictions were personal. But a month later, after Francis issued his encyclical on the environment, Bush changed his tune and declared that “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope. ... Religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.” The same applies to Santorum: when the pope’s comments in interviews align with social conservatism, Santorum defends them tooth and nail as a “good Catholic” that he considers himself. When they don’t, he dismisses them as unofficial. That’s how Santorum treated Francis’ remark that Catholics don’t have to breed like rabbits. “When he speaks as the leader of the Catholic Church, I’ll certainly pay attention,” Santorum said of the pope’s statement. “But when he speaks in interviews, he’s giving his own opinions.” It seems that it’s all choose and pick. How convenient.

Then there is the stratagem of accusing the pope of missing the big picture.Rubio has repeatedly declared  that policymakers must recognize that  it’s in the common good to protect our economy” never mind protection of the environment. On Cuba, Rubio goes further. Recently, when asked about his differences with the pope, the senator replied: “I would also ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy.” In other words, the pope is affected by moral myopia and is in effect condoning the sins of the Castro regime.


Meeting Fidel Castro in Cuba before visiting the US

On climate change and science, the republicans in general say that the Pope is out of his depth, never mind that his specialization in college was chemistry, never mind that political stances have precious little to do with science which remains objective, non-political, and based on facts; never mind that 97% of scientists concur on man-made global climate change.

Still another tactic is to declare that the pope is not talking about the USA but other countries. When Pope Francis talks “about the exploitation of the underprivileged,” says Jindal, “we’ve got to understand that he’s speaking to a global audience.” It doesn’t mean he’s “against charter schools” or “against my tax package.”  In other words, all countries are sinners, except us. We are exceptional and immune from original sin.


All the above is to say that the pope represents foreigners. On social issues, where the church’s teachings suits Republicans, Catholicism is a strict, universally applicable list of principles and rules. On economics, where the church’s teachings challenge Republican faith in free market capitalism, Catholicism is a set of vague principles the pope is incompetent to apply. On foreign affairs, the pope is a moral hero when he aligns with Republican ideology, and an agent of Latin American socialists when he doesn’t. Which is to say, in conclusion, that the eight republicans running for president are more Catholic than the pope himself.

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Gerard Farley2015-09-28 22:23:47
It is noteworthy that the pontiff held up as role models for Americans two non-Catholics and two converts to Catholicism; namely, Abraham Lincoln, Dr. King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. One can only wonder who the role models are of the current Republican contenders for the nomination of their party. Perhaps, it is Ronald Reagan who funded the murderers of Oscar Romero, and some of Pope Francis's fellow Jesuits, and some American nuns to boot.

James Woodbury2015-09-29 20:44:41
Dear Emanuel.
First and foremost: I am very glad to learn that you are getting better and that the element ofpain is decreasing!?
I agree completely with your article above. I also agree with Gerard's well-phrased comment thereto. Republicans of the kind you described are oblivious to the collective processes of theological agreement and consensus within the Catholic Church on these matters which began unfolding with Leo XIII. They have an individualistic conception of faith and theology, epitomized in the way Jeb Bush phrased his objections toPope Francis's teachings. Warmest regards,
James W.

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