The pejorative term “Cafeteria Catholic” is too often used to describe liberal Catholics who stray from the Church’s path; but what of conservative Catholics who do the same? Recently, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released his budget plan, which called for cuts in entitlements to the elderly, student scholarships (in the form of Pell Grants), food and housing aid, and low-income tax credits. Needless to say it has stirred the Catholic pot.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops confronted their fellow Catholic, Ryan, soon after he unveiled his $3.5 trillion budget for the fiscal year 2013, warning him that it drastically ignored the plight of the poor. Ryan, with his back against the wall, fought back, claiming his faith guides him in all his decisions and that by sharply lowering the budget deficit he was helping the poor in the long-term. The problem, of course, is that if he was sincerely devoted to lowering the budget deficit, he would not have included in his plan billions of dollars in tax breaks to the very wealthy. Comedian Stephen Colbert highlighted the issue in a segment in which he said, “Yes, helping the poor keeps them stuck in poverty,” with more than a little irony.
Unfortunately, Ryan is not alone. I know countless conservative Catholics who use their faith to justify why they believe women should not have full control over their bodies in regards to abortion rights. They go beyond simply saying that abortion is wrong for them, but preach the message that abortion is wrong for others too. This breed of Cafeteria Catholic, has no problem disregarding the numerous other tenets of their faith that would have them devoting equal amount of effort to social justice: aiding the poor, preserving the environment, and protesting capital punishment and war.
To make matters worse, conservative Catholic politicians, like Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) and former Senator and one-time Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum, are equally guilty of picking and choosing which elements of their religion fit into their political platform while ignoring the others. Conservative Catholics in Congress stand against women having the freedom to have an abortion, even in the case of rape, but when the Pope condemns the U.S. invasion of Iraq and calls for deterring global climate change they ignore His Holiness.
There is little doubt that those practicing conservative Cafeteria Catholicism are just as hypocritical as their more liberal brothers in faith. What makes this right-wing breed particularly alarming is that conservative Catholics would utilize their faith to restrict our civil liberties. In the aftermath of President Obama’s declaration that he favors making gay marriage legal, it will be interesting to see once-again how the new Cafeteria Catholics will react. They will profess their faith. They will say that marriage is an institution that is controlled by the Church, and it is the Church that decides who it will marry. But their explanations will ring hollow when they turn around and snub the Church on issues of poverty and the environment. Want some tax breaks with that?