Top Clinton campaign officials are under fire after the latest batch of emails from Wikileaks referred to the Catholic Church as a “Middle Ages dictatorship,” suggested some conservatives convert to Catholicism out of political expedience and that Clinton’s campaign chairman considered the creation of nominally Catholic organizations to erode support for the church itself.
Two exchanges among the latest batch of 1,200 emails released by Wikileaks are drawing the most scrutiny on this issue. The first came in in 2011 in an email from John Halpin of the Center for American Progress to John Podesta and Jennifer Palmieri. Podesta is now Clinton’s campaign chairman and Palmieri is a top spokeswoman.
After mocking News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch for having his Catholic children baptized in the Jordan River, Halpin broadens the discussion.
“Many of the most powerful elements of the conservative movement are all Catholic (many converts) from the SC and think tanks to the media and social groups,” wrote Halpin.
“It’s an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy,” he continued.
“I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals,” replied Palmieri.
In a 2012 email, Podesta corresponds with Voices for Progress President Sandy Newman. Newman was looking for ways to build a movement to weaken the power of the Catholic church in the political debates over contraception, particularly with respect to the contraception mandate imposed as part of President Obama’s new health care law.
“We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this. But I think it lacks the leadership to do so now. Likewise Catholics United. Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up,” wrote Podesta, noting that former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend would be a good choice to lead such a movement.
Republican Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence immediately slammed the emails on Wednesday.
“Hillary Clinton should denounce those bigoted, anti-Catholic, anti-evangelical remarks and her campaign staff should apologize to people of faith and do it now,” said Pence.
For many observant Catholicsm the contents of these email exchanges are deeply troubling.
“It’s hard to know where to start, to be honest,” said Maureen Ferguson, senior policy adviser at The Catholic Association.
However, she says her first reaction was oddly one of gratitude.
“We should all be grateful that we’re getting a preview of this before Election Day, so that we can go into the voting booth with very clear eyes knowing what a Hillary Clinton administration would look like,” said Ferguson.
“People at the highest level in her campaign are just displaying blatant bias and discriminatory attitudes towards people of faith. The way that they’re mocking Catholics and evangelicals, there is obviously no respect here for those who cherish their first amendment freedom of religion,” she added.
While appalled at the comments, Ferguson says no one should be expect the Clinton team to think otherwise.
“On the one hand, it’s very surprising and stark to read these attitudes in black and white, but on the other hand we should not be surprised. This anti-Catholic, anti-people of faith bias comes on the heels of eight years of an administration which has been systematically undermining our religious liberty,” said Ferguson.
She points specifically to the Obama administration’s imposing of the contraception mandate.
“Remember the HHS mandate on contraceptives, telling Catholic nuns that had to be paying for contraceptives. This is using the heavy hand of the federal government, threatening massive government fines on a group of nuns (Little Sisters of the Poor) who are serving the elderly poor, unless they get in line with this liberal agenda,” said Ferguson.
She also says Hillary Clinton has also laid down the gauntlet on religious freedom. In April 2015, Clinton told the Women in the World Summit that biblical and moral opposition to abortion would be in the cross hairs of her administration.
“Laws have to backed up with resources and political will and deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed,” said Clinton.
Ferguson is especially galled at Podesta for wanting to create nominally-Catholic groups to challenge Catholic authorities on cultural issues.
“He admits to having been a part of creating these groups called Catholic Alliance for the Common Good and another one called Catholics United. Their specific purpose is to undermine the Catholic Church,” said Ferguson.
She says this is nothing new for Democrats.
“We all became familiar over the years with Catholics for a Free Choice, which was a pro-abortion group that put the name ‘Catholic’ on it it to undermine the Catholic position in defense of the sanctity of human life. In these emails, John Podesta even admits to creating these two liberal Catholic front groups as a way to subversively attack the church,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson admits this has been a tough election season for many observant Catholics, being repulsed by Clinton’s positions on a host of issues vitally important to them and by Donald Trump’s behavior past and present.
“I think so many of us Catholics feel quite homeless in this election,” she said.
But that does not mean both options are equally terrible in her eyes.
“I think most people wish we had different choices in this election, but we should at least be clear-eyed about what a Hillary Clinton administration would look like. It would be full of people who are aggressively attacking our freedom of religion,” said Ferguson.
“Trump has made a lot of pledges on religious liberty and a lot of the people around him and a lot of the people around him, like Mike Pence for example, have come out very strongly. He has a history of very good positions on life and religious liberty and issues related to the family,” said Ferguson.