In the “biography” section on my Twitter account, I describe myself as a “Gelateria Catholic”. When I was recently interviewed, the very first question was about what this term meant. The insinuation was that I define myself a “gelateria Catholic” because there are many flavours and you can choose from an almost infinite number of them. But that is not the case.

As we are in the middle of a hot summer (I write from Australia, where it is a warm winter) it’s a good time to explain the true meaning of “gelateria Catholic”.

One simple reason for the term is that I do not drink coffee. So I am not entitled to claim the more well-known label, “cafeteria Catholic”. Another is that I am Italian, and gelato could be seen as more Italian than coffee.

But there are other reasons as well. The first is my attempt to deflect the accusation made by some that others are merely “cafeteria Catholics”, at ease only in a Catholic Church where each and every one is entitled to his/her own version of coffee as well as Catholicism: tall or ristretto, Italian or American, in a glass or a cup (or chalice, for lovers of Latin).

“Gelateria Catholic” is my way of saying that Catholicism has always been, to some extent, a spectrum of different tastes of the Catholic faith. If only we had the courage to explore what Catholicism has been in different areas of the world in different periods. In the post-Vatican II era we had more visible oscillations and experimentation – but most of it was about its visibility, not its fundamental differences between one taste and another.

The second reason is that we live in an age where the intra-Catholic conversation has become difficult and at times very heated. Coffee is not a good idea when accusations of heresy are just one tweet or one click away. Coffee excites the spirit, but gelato cools it down. On a warm night in Rome back in May, I was in the middle of an overly animated Twitter conversation. I decided to abandon the thread and announced publicly that I was going out to get gelato. I should have done that more often…

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