I think we’ve all heard of the term Cafeteria Catholic; referring to the kind of person who picks and chooses which Church teachings to follow and ignoring the ones they’d rather do without. The term comes from the same kind of whimsical approach most of us take when getting lunch at the cafeteria; perhaps choosing the daily special over the cellophane wrapped sandwich, or maybe this time we’ll take the red Jell-O instead of the green.
The sad thing is, we all probably know of at least one Cafeteria Catholic. There’s Uncle Fred who likes to take his Eucharist without the obligatory side of yearly confession. Or maybe there’s your pew neighbour who’s there every week, she coos at the babies being baptized and loves Pope Francis, but she also thinks a woman should have the right to choose abortion.
Unfortunately, when we try to show these folks that Catholicism is a smorgasbord rather than a cafeteria, where every last teaching is to be not only eaten, but also savoured, we’re usually shouted down for trying to force-feed them.
Recently, however, I’ve noticed an even more disturbing trend when it comes to Catholic teaching; something I would like to call Google Catholicism.
Let me explain…
My brother-in-law is in the last year of his radiology residency. Like all doctors, although his speciality is radiology, during his residency he has had to do stints in all areas of medicine from paediatrics to gerontology and everything in between. Early on in his residency he spent some time in the ER of a major downtown hospital. When I asked him about this experience, he said the worst part was that most patients that came in had already self-diagnosed from the internet, and that they were telling him the treatment he was supposed to prescribe. It seems that 30 seconds on Google supersedes 12+ years (at that particular moment) of university education.
A parallel can be extended to the Catholic Church. Pope Francis, himself, even likened “the Church as a field hospital after battle.”
From having watched and meditated upon the goings-on at the recent Synod on the Family; it’s left me wondering if the Church is a field hospital where the patients, and in some cases even the nurses, are telling the surgeons what treatments to prescribe. Those who were once Cafeteria Catholics, who picked and chose which teachings of the Church to follow to suit their needs, have now become Google Catholics, telling the Church which teachings to change to suit their needs.
The biggest hullabaloo seemed to centre on the question of Communion for divorced and re-married Catholics. Although there is a recognition of a state of sin (cf Mt 19:3-8; Mk 10:2-9 and Lk 16:18), the proponents of this practice, and others, seem intent on flying in the face of Christ’s teachings. The Magisterium is right in saying that there are simply some teachings that cannot be changed, because they come from Christ Himself; yet there are still some, both inside and outside the Church, who insist they know better.
On this matter, as well as any other (especially homosexuality), the pat argument of the Google Catholic is to trot out the ubiquitous Pope Francis quote: “Who am I to judge?” Although correct in that we do not have the right of final judgement on a person’s soul, we do have a responsibility to judge each other’s actions so as to best help one another present the best case possible when it comes to our final judgement. Added to this problem is the fact that this quote is usually wildly misused, misunderstood and presented out of context. Pope Francis himself recently explained: "On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?" (cited in New Catholic Reporter) In this statement there is a notion of love for a sinner seeking mercy; a seeking out of the Lord and a willingness to follow in His ways of repentance.
Just as there is an inherent danger to our physical health when we self-diagnose and self-prescribe off the internet without the foundation of a sound medical education, so too is there an inherent danger to our spiritual health when we self-diagnose and self-prescribe for our sins. Being a Google Catholic can be great, if you allow it to open the doors to the smorgasbord of Catholic teaching. However, if you insist on being a Google Catholic to put yourself ahead of Christ and the 2000+ year cumulative teachings of the Church He founded – then you’re playing with fire.