"Liberal" Catholics are often said to twist the church's teaching (or disregard it completely) to suit their own needs--particularly on matters of sexuality and church authority. (We are sometimes accused of that here at America, and on this blog.) "Cafeteria Catholic" is an epithet indicating those who pick and choose from among the church's teachings, as one chooses among entrees and desserts in a school cafeteria. It is an epithet usually reserved for "liberals" or "progressives." But "liberals" are not the only ones who frequent that cafeteria. Some "conservative" or "traditional" Catholics sometimes (not always, but sometimes) downplay other weighty matters, particularly issues surrounding social justice and war, as if caring for the poor or preventing bloodshed (see Mt. 25) were somehow outside the realm of Christian piety.
I'm inclined to say that most good and devout Catholics tend to focus their activism on what they are most concerned about (that is, some on the right focus more on abortion and other related life issues like stem-cell research; some on the left focus more on social justice issues like urban poverty or war and peace). To my mind, that is natural, healthy and even laudable. To use some Pauline language, the hand does not need to be a foot. You may prefer to participate in a right-to-life organization and I can cheer you on; I may prefer to work in a soup kitchen and you can cheer me on. (In the Jesuits this works well: I'm delighted that so many of my brother Jesuits, for example, attended the March for Life this year in Washington, DC. And some of the most traditional of my Jesuit friends supported me wholly when I worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Nairobi.)
Not everyone has to work in precisely the same arenas, in precisely the same way, yet we can all support one another as members of the Body of Christ. "You can do something I cannot do. I can do something you cannot do," said Mother Teresa. "Together let us do something beautiful for God."
But, in my experience, a few on the far-right don't subscribe to that outlook: they would, they say, never set foot in that cafeteria.
For a recent example of the Cafeteria Catholic on the right, witness EWTN's offering a very friendly airing of the views of a person who supports torture--or at least the "enhanced" interrogation techniques--that have been thoroughly discredited, as well as roundly condemned by the church. Note the way the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines torture, and condemns it so strongly: "Torture, which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity." Stephen M. Colecchi, director of the US Bishops' Conference Office of International Justice and Peace, made the same observations in an article last month in America. "In a church of both saints and sinners, victims and perpetrators, Catholic social teaching on torture has special authenticity and credibility. In its service to the human family as it seeks the full truth of the human person, the church has come to understand and teach with honesty and clarity that the prohibition against torture is absolute. The act of torture is utterly incompatible with the dignity of the human person, and the practice of torture wounds the victim, the perpetrator and the common good of all."
And here is Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor: '[T]here exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object'. ... 'whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity' ... 'all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator.'"
(The video below first appeared on Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish. Sullivan was impassioned in his revulsion--and yes, spoke of his own differences with the church. So anyone who weighs in about Mr. Sullivan's differences with the church on homosexuality in our comment box, must also grapple with EWTN's own considerable differences with church teaching on this matter.)
To my mind, the laughter is the most disturbing thing about this video.