What does it mean for someone to say that they are Catholic? Technically, anyone who was baptized or confirmed in the Church is Catholic and always will be. Technically.
There are, of course, those who have “left the Church,” at least in their own minds. They implicitly or explicitly deny the authority of the Church, given by Christ, to preserve and spread truth to the world. These lapsed-Catholics take contrary personal positions on this or that and find a community more agreeable with their will, if not Christ’s.
There is another group of dissident Catholics who have not left. They too disagree with Church teaching, insist it is wrong and that it must change or become “flexible.” Like the first group, these folks soundly deny the authority of our Lord’s Church from which He is inseparable. Through their positions, they are saying that Jesus is wrong. Most liberal Catholic politicians fit this definition (Peolsi, Sebelius, Biden, et al). While claiming to be “guided” by their faith, they none-the-less warmly embrace that which is anathema such as abortion, contraception, “gay marriage,” restrictions on religious freedom and so on. “[T]his people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me…” (Isaiah 29:13)
Pope Benedict XVI himself spoke on this topic in a recent Angelus address (the highlighting is mine):
Dear brothers and sisters!
In the past few Sundays we have meditated on the “Bread of Life” discourse that Jesus pronounced in the synagogue of Capernaum after feeding thousands of people with five loaves and two fishes. Today, the Gospel presents the disciples” reaction to that speech, a reaction that Christ Himself knowingly provoked. First of all, John the Evangelist – who was present along with the other Apostles – reports that “from that time many of His disciples drew back and no longer went about with Him” (John 6:66). Why? Because they did not believe the words of Jesus when He said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live forever? (cf. John 6:51-54). This revelation, as I have said, remained incomprehensible to them, because they understood it in a material sense, while in these words was foretold the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, in which He would give Himself for the salvation of the world: the new presence in the Holy Eucharist.
Seeing that many of His disciples were leaving, Jesus addressed the Apostles, saying: “Will you also go away?” (John 6:67). As in other cases, it is Peter who replied on behalf of the Twelve: “Lord, to whom shall we go? – and we too can reflect: to whom shall we go? – You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). On this passage we have a beautiful commentary of St. Augustine, who says in one of his homilies on John 6: “Do you see how Peter, by the grace of God, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has understood? Why did he understand? Because he believed. You have the words of eternal life. You give us eternal life by offering your risen body and your blood, your very self. And we have believed and understood. He does not say we have understood and then we believed, but we believed and then we understood. We have believed in order to be able to understand; if, in fact, we wanted to understand before believing, we would not be able either to understand or to believe. What have we believed and what have we understood? That You are the Christ, the Son of God, that is, that You are that very eternal life, and that You give in Your flesh and blood only that which You are? (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 27, 9). So Saint Augustine said in a homily to his faithful people.
Finally, Jesus knew that even among the twelve apostles there was one that did not believe: Judas. Judas could have left, as many of the disciples did; indeed, he would have left if he were honest. Instead he remained with Jesus. He did not remain because of faith, or because of love, but with the secret intention of taking vengeance on the Master. Why? Because Judas felt betrayed by Jesus, and decided that he in turn would betray Him. Judas was a Zealot, and wanted a triumphant Messiah, who would lead a revolt against the Romans. Jesus had disappointed those expectations. The problem is that Judas did not go away, and his most serious fault was falsehood, which is the mark of the devil. This is why Jesus said to the Twelve: “One of you is a devil” (John 6:70). We pray to the Virgin Mary, help us to believe in Jesus, as St. Peter did, and to always be sincere with Him and with all people.
The pope’s address is on the Vatican website, in text and audio.
In related comments, Father John Hollowell noted that “a cafeteria Catholic has taken true premises through to false conclusions while also lacking the courage to ACT on those false conclusions. Is there anything more illogical than that ‘catholics’ who hate the Church?” His very good, recent homily expounds on this:
Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro in recent comments said “Catholics who cannot bring themselves to believe the formal teachings of the Church on life and family matters – it would be more honest to leave the Church rather than betraying Her. We regret very much that the person is so inclined and we wish they would have a conversion to truly believe.”