The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

New book reveals “Smorgasbord Catholics” who love their Church

There are some pretty compelling conclusions here — and I’m sure there will be a lot of debate about what it all means.


Public outcry about the sex-abuse crisis, disdain for arrogant bishops and disagreement with church doctrine about birth control and abortion rights have not eroded the faith of Roman Catholics in Chicago, according to an unprecedented study of the archdiocese by one of the nation’s preeminent Catholic scholars.


In fact, the study, to be unveiled Wednesday, reveals an even deeper faith on the part of young Chicago Catholics who are “more at ease with the practice of being Catholic on their own terms.”


Publication of “Chicago Catholics and the Struggles Within Their Church,” made possible by Greeley’s colleagues, fulfills the original assignment Greeley, now 82, received more than 50 years ago. It is based on data from 524 Catholics in Cook and Lake counties contacted by the Survey Lab at the University of Chicago in 2007.


Among the findings were revelations that set Chicago apart from other cities and reflected national trends. For example, like most American Catholics, parishioners gave a higher approval rating to their parish priest than Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Francis George, who received an 86 percent approval rating.


In addition, 78 percent of the respondents said Catholicism is either “extremely important” or “very important” in their lives.

Greeley wrote that the survey suggests “two separate Catholic identities — an imaginative, story-telling identity and a rules identity,” commonly referred to as “Cafeteria Catholics.” Those Catholics revere the sacraments and run in primarily Catholic circles, but they make their own choices on moral, religious and political issues.

“The only safe prediction seems to be that … there will be, whether the leadership likes it or not, varied forms of affiliation with a Church most of them still love,” Greeley wrote. “Not Cafeteria Catholics so much as Smorgasbord Catholics, a rich and diverse collection of ways to affirm one’s Catholicism.”


In addition to high approval ratings for parish priests, Greeley also found that in many respects the 20- and 30-something crowds are more devout than older generations. And about 40 percent of the lapsed Catholics who have left are open to the possibility of returning to the fold, he concluded.

There’s much more. Check it out.

Comments read comments(6)
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Eugene Pagano

posted October 20, 2010 at 6:58 pm

It sounds like many of these young Chicago Catholics would not be the 100% Catholics that Abp. Nienstedt demands.

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Sensus Fidei

posted October 20, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Isn’t that the truth, Eugene. They sound golden to us! Adoring the holy baby Jesus and disregarding dirty bath water, smart faithful. Sounds like beloved Cardinal Bernardin’s example lives on, hopefully astute peers will take note.

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posted October 21, 2010 at 5:59 am

Basically no different from the time of the Gospels regarding the people around Jesus.
There was always crowds of well-wishers, lurkers, part-time followers, fun seekers, and go-with-the-herd followers. Jesus seems to have actually sometimes become annoyed by all this.
Discipleship was never cheap. And besides that, today he have a mountain of ignorance of the faith amongst the pew sitters.

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Hx Observer

posted October 21, 2010 at 10:15 am

Why should there be any concern about modern Catholics taking an eclectic approach to church today? The Roman Church has been practicing syncretism for centuries. They have borrowed and adopted from the pagan cultures around them for millenia. Why is this even news? It was this syncretic approach that has been the impetus for many reform movements within and without the Church of Rome.

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posted October 21, 2010 at 2:07 pm

I am happy to be a devout Catholic. I am in my forties, a well-educated professional with my own company. I am married with four children who are grown.
It is painfully obvious that some posters have not read their Church history. How unfortunate that they choose to expose their ignorance in a public forum.
“Smorgasbord Catholics”, or whatever one may choose to call them, are not supposed to partake of of Communion unless they agree with Catholic teachings. To do so is hypocrisy.

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posted October 21, 2010 at 11:39 pm

If you don’t believe everything the Catholic Church teaches then you don’t truly believe anything it teaches, you just agree with those teachings that appeal to you for now. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ and because it is Christ’s Mystical Body it is infallible and indefectable. Infallible means it cannot teach erroneously in matters of faith and morals. Indefectable means that it cannot fail to be what Christ willed it to be at its birth on Pentecost. Those who reject the Church in ANY of its teachings on faith and morals reject Christ (Luke 10:16) and are therefore branches cut off from the vine.

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