Welcome to the Cafeteria, Newt

Why did Newt Gingrich conver to Catholicism?  Here's the answer, or at least part of it, according to Time in an article entitled, um, Why Newt Gingrich Converted to Catholicism (H/T to Deacon's Bench).

Gingrich describes the appeal of Catholicism for him in just these terms. "When you have 2,000 years of intellectual depth surrounding you," he told me on a recent summer morning, "it's comforting." There's also cachet in conservative political circles to being Catholic. Until their deaths in the past year, Father Richard John Neuhaus and National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. presided over an intellectual haven for conservatives put off by Evangelicals who rail against experts and élites.


Catholicism offers Gingrich not just a strong religious tradition and community. It also gives him peace at home. His wife Callista is a lifelong Catholic who sings in the basilica's professional choir. After the two married in 2000, Gingrich found himself dragged to church whenever they traveled — "she's adamant that we go to Mass" — and started attending services at the basilica to hear Callista sing.

And this juicy bit at the end.

He may march to the beat of St. Peter these days, but Newt is still Newt. "I don't think of myself as intensely religious," he says. Asked about Pope Benedict XVI's latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, the first economic and social statement of his papacy, Gingrich admits he hasn't yet read the whole thing but opines that the parts he has examined are "largely correct." And before Mass one July Sunday, Gingrich took a seat near the aisle and bowed his head. But he wasn't praying. Instead, the famously voracious reader was sneaking in a few pages of a novel until the service began.

Largely?  Welcome to the cafeteria!

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9 years 5 months ago
Well, "largely correct" is more than most people give to Humanae Vitae, or Fr. Roy Bourgeois gives to the Apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Conversion to the Gospel is a life-long journey, not a one time event, and we are all in different places in the process, after all. Best wishes to Newt as he joins us on the pilgrimage.
9 years 5 months ago
Fr. Martin,
"Welcome to the cafeteria!"??   The cafeteria has nothing to do with the analysis of the menu.  It has to do with what you eat.
One cannot determine whether Gingrich is a Cafeteria Catholic based on his comment.
So, Fr. Martin, I don't know if he is in line with you yet!
9 years 5 months ago
May I assume from Mr. Ginrich's conversion that his previous marriages were anulled? Is he a member of the Church in good standing?
9 years 5 months ago
Father Jim,  It just proves to me that we are ALL welcome to the greatest game of them all , each time we go to MASS, the Eucharist has that awesome appeal.  While I often disagree with Mr. Gingrich, I find he is no different than the persons going through RCIA at my church.  They are searching and finding the rich themes that we have always known appealing.  A true teaching moment as they say in todays world of IPODS, DVDS, and IM communications.
9 years 5 months ago
More proof that Catholics who value the teachings of their church will not find solace in allegiance to either party or any politician.  Best wishes to Mr. Gingrich on his journey to Christ, but here's wishing that he (along with Tony Blair, Nancy Pelosi, etc.) will show some hubris and restraint in the future.  Fr. Martin, the part you found to be "juicy", I found to be distasteful gossip.  As public as a figure as Mr. Gingrich is, one would think that how he chooses to spend his time before Holy Mass is not subject to inspection by a "news" magazine.  I wonder if you would have had the same reaction if the story had been about a person whose political inclinations were closer to your own.
9 years 5 months ago
Thanks be to God that I no longer have read Time magazine.  Gee, I did not know Amy Sullivan lowers Time's standard to this level of National Enquirer (ie. snooping around the basilica to see what Newt is up to before Mass).
9 years 5 months ago
I agree with Anne B. This whole approach to a known figure who approaches the Church is entirely out of line with the tradition and history of conversions by great people. Where is the humility? Where the "conversion" even? Where the rejection of the former life of public sins? Where the example that people would be amazed at and emulate instead of gasp at and scorn?
9 years 5 months ago
No comment on Newt. But I wanted to let you know I gave you a shout-out on the NCR blog today and in my column about Mad Men.
9 years 5 months ago
Fr. Jim, I would like it if you were to clarify that cafeteria comment, too. Does one have to agree with the Pope's understanding of economics (which, I think-at least based on his past writings-is way too heavily infused with outdated Frankfurt School concepts) to avoid being called a cafeteria Catholic? I really doubt that. We're not talking about disagreements on fundamental sacred or moral issues. We're talking about evaluations of empirical matters. Am I misreading you?
9 years 5 months ago
Dear Goyo,
Happy to clarify.  Normally, "Cafeteria Catholic," which usually refers to someone who picks and chooses among the church's teachings (including encyclicals, which have their own authority in Catholic theology) is an epithet thrown at those on the "left" by the "right."  So here is someone very clearly on the "right" who is saying- shortly after his reception into the church-that he's only "largely" in favor of the pope's most recent encyclical.  It just goes to show that both sides are prone to label teachings that they don't care for (whether they come from the Gospels, the Creed, the documents of the many Councils, encyclicals, motu proprios, decisions from various dicasteries, and so on) as of relatively less importance.  Both sides do that: the right sometimes does it with economic matters; the left sometimes with liturgical matters, to take but two examples.  Both sides sincerely believe that they are hewing to the "important" things.  Thus, welcome to the cafeteria. 
James Martin, SJ
9 years 5 months ago
The book "Sense of the Faithful" (by Jerome Baggett) does an excellent job of laying out the cafeteria behaviors of both sides, using as evidence the lives of Catholics in five very different parishes in the Bay area (including "traditional" and "liberal").  Another good example can be found on the comments on the article by Fr. Place on America's blog, where someone (who implies she is Catholic) flat out says she rejects papal statements on human dignity and health care.
9 years 5 months ago
Dear Fr. Jim: Thanks so much for your reply. I guess my question, though, has more to do with the nature of the cafeteria. It seems that, even among the most hardline, right-wing Orthodox Catholics, there could be areas where it is not necessary to have agreement-and this wouldn't make one a Cafeteria Catholic. (And boy am I familiar with that phrase, having been raised and educated by self-professed devout Catholics.) So empirical matters-the knowledge of which by definition, of course, depends upon experience and could change-such as what socio-economic arrangements may enable human flourishing the most and what contributes most to the common good, are matters in which Catholics could disagree with the Vatican without being Cafeteria Catholics. Now, if Newt said, ''I disagree with Benedict's ideas that we have to take care of the poor and that we have a responsibility to be stewards of the environment''-that would make him a Cafeteria Catholic. But if he disagrees with which means are effective in achieving those goals, does that really make him a Cafeteria Catholic? I would hardly think so-we don't expect our Church leaders to be experts of all things beyond faith and morals, such as economics, political science, engineering, etc. I didn't take this last encyclical to be an exact policy proposal that we all must follow to the letter so much as a moral argument about the impact of our actions on others. And I'm not sure Newt had any disagreement with the latter aspect; he may have had some disagreements with some of the empirical matters in the diagnoses of the document, but that wouldn't put someone in the cafeteria, would it? I don't know-these are just some thoughts. I didn't that term ''Cafeteria Catholic'' growing up-despite my love of the Church, you are right to suggest many use that term, especially on the right, as a weapon of disdain and revulsion. I'd hate to see it in vogue now among moderates and leftists, too. And besides, I wonder if it fits the bill this time around, anyhow.
9 years 5 months ago
There should be a distinction made between the "Cafeteria Catholics" who disagree with the church's teachings on non-negotiable issues and those who are free to quibble with the pope on certain issues such as those outlined in Caritas in Veritate. I suspect Gingrich is of the latter variety, although I have to wonder if he has ditched the Masons, as Spirit Daily wonders at http://www.whale.to/b/33.html. The church regards membership in the organization as a mortal sin, after all.
9 years 5 months ago
Well said, Goyo. That was the point I made in my message that immediately followed yours while both were in the pipeline for approval. Even George Weigel differed with the pope on the encyclical, but orthodox Catholics don't view him as being the stereotypical "Cafeteria Catholic" of the likes of Madam Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
9 years 5 months ago
Fr. Jim,
When will you be authoring your "Welcome to the Cafeteria, Nancy" post or the "Welcome to the Cafeteria, Joe" post?


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