It took a while, but writers Melinda Selmys and Damon Linker have finally owned up to the thing gnawing at their consciences for years; they no longer believe the claims of the Catholic Church and have left.
Selmys is a blogger at Patheos who calls herself “queer.” Linker is a columnist at The Week noted for betraying his mentor, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, in a nasty book called The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege. Both are on the political left and are Church lefties, too. And isn’t it ironic that they would exit during the Age of Francis when lefties and dissidents are said to have found welcome and succor.
It is not clear when Selmys and Linker stopped believing the claims of the Church. In the column announcing his exit, Linker intimates that he never truly believed her claims. He writes, “If I didn’t really believe in all of the theological precepts taught by the church, at least I wanted to…” He says this impulse to want to believe, not the belief itself, “began to fade in the church scandals that broke less than two years after I entered the church.” It seems he did not believe from the time he converted in 2000 and even his desire to believe began to fade 24 months later.
Melinda Selmys has written much more extensively about her exit from the Church. And, as with Linker, it is abundantly clear; she no longer believes what the Church teaches. It seems, also, that she never fully believed.
At the end of September, Selmys published a piece called “Do You Feel Safe in the Church?” Melinda says she has not felt “safe” in the Church for a long time. “Safe” is a feminist concept accusing others—usually “cishet” men—of placing them in real danger. Melinda actually uses the word “cishet” with all seriousness. For the uninitiated, “cishet” is the execrable portmanteau meaning “cisgender” and “heterosexual,” and cisgender is the portmanteau referring to those benighted souls who think their body matches their sex.
In “Safe,” Melinda writes about a sermon preached by her parish priest on the current crisis. The priest’s final admonition to “persevere” and not to abandon our Mother the Church is what really set her off. “Safe” is a cry of the heart about the claims of the Church. Melinda says it has been a “constant refrain for as long as I have been a Catholic” that no other Church has the sacraments, that there is no salvation outside the Church, and that the Church alone has the infallible means to “scry” the mind of God. You might stumble, as I did, over the word scry. It means divination, and is usually used by fortune tellers. The pope is no more than a fortune teller scrying infallibly the mind of God.
She goes on. This constant refrain of the Church, which I dare say none of us have ever or rarely heard, includes the threat that if you leave, you will “experience eternal punishment, fire and ice and worms and darkness and devils with pincers thrown in for good measure.” Does any of this ring true for anyone who has attended the puerile love-love-love-love Church this past half century?
The same day she published “Safe,” Selmys announced on Facebook her exit from the Catholic Church. In the announcement, she claimed “cognitive dissonance,” “mounting evidence of intellectual dishonesty,” and “historical inaccuracy in the way that [the] church presents itself.” But then, remarkably, she said that the last straw was the defense of a “probable sex offender”—Brett Kavanaugh—by some Catholic men with a view to “end abortion.” She claims that some of us accepted Brett Kavanaugh because he might be the precious fifth vote. Innocence and a lack of evidence had apparently nothing to do with it.
A few days later Selmys published a more extended essay that was essentially about two things; the wicked hierarchy and power. Like many leftists and feminists, Melinda is obsessed with power. She writes a lot about the ordained and how much power she thinks they have. And she has the wrong view of them: they are vendors—holy vendors—but vendors of the sacraments nonetheless. She suffers from clericalism; she has elevated the ordained higher than Christ ever intended. I agree that many priests have the same clericalist mentality. Without a doubt, many churchy Catholics with churchy jobs have this same view about the ordained and no doubt about themselves.
I am utterly indifferent to power in the Church. It is small beer and not the way God set things up. He gave me the world. He gave it to Melinda, too, but she seems to want power in the Church.
But what Melinda revealed in Facebook comments and in comments on her blog are what seem to be the real reasons she has left the Church. It is quite simple. She no longer believes what the Church teaches, and perhaps she never did. She does not accept Catholic teaching about the Eucharist. She does not accept Catholic teaching about sacramental confession. And because of this, she no longer believes the Church is The Church.
And so, she is gone, and Linker is gone, and that is a good thing.
Some, like Rod Dreher, take umbrage at the charge that they must have never been Catholic in the first place. But one thing is clear. Selmys and Linker have left the Church and have said they do not believe what the Church teaches. This happened somewhere along the line and could have been present from the very beginning. At least we can say that both of them lived in the Church as dissenters, but for how long we cannot know.
Shouldn’t all dissenters leave? Any orthodox believer involved in Church issues knows he is up against dissenters. How much damage have dissenters done? We are not talking about those with John Henry Newman’s ten thousand difficulties. We are talking about those with ten thousand doubts and, more than that, we are talking about those who have no doubt that the Church is wrong in what she teaches.
Some of these dissidents are outside like Selmys and Linker, but many more are inside the institutional Church. They populate the rectories and the chanceries. They stay to “make change” as Melinda hoped to do. In a Facebook exchange, another dissenter, Rebecca Bratten Weis, formerly of Franciscan University of Steubenville, told Melinda she is going to stay and fight, which is what all dissenters are tempted to do. Should Weiss be honest and leave, too?
Linker says it was beauty that brought him into the Church. And Melinda wishes she had more power. But, here’s the thing: there is more beauty in an old woman faithfully saying her rosary by herself than in all the stunning cathedrals in the world, and more power than in all the chanceries.
(Photo credit: Michael Henderson / Wikimedia)