A series of emails released by WikiLeaks connected to its dump of John Podesta’s server show senior aides to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton disparaging the Catholic Church and evangelical Christians.
Catholic leaders and Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaign swiftly denounced the emails.
The emails in question expose a hostility to traditional Catholic belief, and implicated a Catholic social justice group in a general scheme to foment disunity within the Church.
“They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy,” Center for American Progress fellow John Halpin wrote to Podesta and communications director Jennifer Palmieri in 2011, in reference to conservative Catholics.
“I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion,” Palmieri responded. “Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.” Palmieri and Podesta are both Catholics.
“Excellent point,” Halpin responds. “They can throw around ‘Thomistic’ thought and ‘subsidiarity’ and sound sophisticated because no one knows what the hell they’re talking about.”
Thomistic thought refers to the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century philosopher whose Summa Theologica is widely considered the seminal text of Catholic theology. Subsidiarity is a tenant of Catholic social thought, popular with conservatives, which argues that large and complex entities should not take action when a smaller, less complex entity is capable of doing the same work. (RELATED: Clinton Allies Make Fun Of Rupert Murdoch For Raising His Kids Catholic)
Another email, from Sandy Newman of Voices for Progress, called the Church a medieval dictatorship and polemicized in favor of a “Catholic spring,” or a grassroots revolution against autocracy along the lines of the so-called “Arab spring,” which saw the collapse of several dictatorships in the Arab world.
“There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church,” Newman wrote, before professing his “total lack of understanding” of Catholicism.
“We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this,” Podesta replied.
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good took issue with Podesta’s characterization of their mission and purpose.
“The idea that we’re a front group for the Democratic party or Hillary Clinton is absurd,” the group’s executive director, Christopher Hale, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “And if I were a surrogate, I’m a really bad one.” he continued. “We challenge the Democratic party over topics as diverse as abortion, religious liberty, and inclusion.” Hale has publicly criticized what he describes as the “bourgeoisie, data-driven politics” of the left for its failure to embrace orthodox believers. He has also been critical of the party’s political alliance with Planned Parenthood.
In addition, Hale explained that, while Podesta was one of many people who played a role in the founding of the organization, he does not participate substantively in the group’s operations.
“Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good has ten mothers and no fathers, so there’s a lot of people that claim ownership or claim leadership over our organization,” he said.
TheDCNF was unable to verify the extent of Podesta’s activity with the group, which seems to have charted a more conventionally Catholic course in recent years.
While disagreeing that the language in the emails was overtly anti-Catholic, Hale did find the emails troubling.
“I thought the language was wrongheaded,” he said. “I think that the Catholic Church has been a profound gift to the United States and I think we should acknowledge how much good it has done for our nation.”
The Trump campaign seized on the disclosures in short order. “We call on Hillary Clinton to apologize and to fire the staff who have engaged in this vicious anti-Catholic bigotry,” said Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, also a Catholic, on a conference call with reporters. “All of this shows who these people are at the core. The American people need to know who they are, and their very radical agenda that will be an assault on Catholics and all people of faith and good will.”
Other Catholic commentators took a slightly different tack.
“The biggest thing they revealed to me is the way in which they see Catholicism as a competing faith to their own,” Dr. Chad Pecknold, professor of theology at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., told TheDCNF.
Pecknold suggested the exchanges reveal an intense, quasi-religious commitment to left-wing politics. “Liberalism is a secularized, purified form of progressive Protestant Christianity for them,” he explained. “This is in a sense why you got the comment about Christian democracy. ‘Do Catholics not understand Christian democracy like we do?’ No, we don’t. They understand Christian democracy as something that comes out of a Hegelian strand of progressive Protestant thought, which is parasitic upon Christianity. And at the same time they hold true Christianity in disdain.”
He also noted the extent to which Catholics dominate elite circles may color their perspective of religious believers generally speaking.
“You sense a certain awareness that the very few genuinely religious people that they come across in public life, in media, the courts, and politics are Catholic,” he said.
Seizing on those points, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat tweeted that the emails reflect theological cleavages within the Church and Christianity generally.
The revelations are especially awkward for Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Time Kaine, who identifies as a practicing Catholic from a devout household that never misses Sunday Mass. Kaine has not yet commented on the emails.
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