WikiLeaks hack exposes Clinton staff's past Catholic conversations

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Washington — The chief liaison to Republican nominee Donald Trump for Catholic issues said that emails released Tuesday by WikiLeaks "reveal the depths of the hostility of Hillary Clinton and her campaign toward Catholics."

The emails illustrate "the open anti-Catholic bigotry of her senior advisers, who attack the deeply held beliefs and theology of Catholics," said liaison Joseph Cella, who is the founder of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

On Tuesday, Catholic News Service sent an email to the Clinton campaign seeking comment, but there was no immediate reply. A Time magazine story published online late Tuesday said Brian Fallon, a Clinton spokesperson, responded to the charges of anti-Catholicism, calling it a "faux controversy" courtesy of a WikiLeaks hack.

Cella was referring to a leaked email chain with the subject "Conservative Catholicism" from 2011 in which Jennifer Palmieri, a Catholic herself, who is now Clinton's communications director, and John Halpin, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, discussed Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp, a media conglomerate that includes Fox News in its holdings, and Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson having had their children baptized as Catholics.

"Many of the most powerful elements of the conservative movement are all Catholic -- many converts. ... It's an amazing bastardization of the faith," Halpin wrote in an email to Palmieri and John Podesta, Hillary's campaign chairman who was chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and has been a counselor to President Barack Obama. "They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy."

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Halpin added: "I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn't understand if they became evangelicals."

Podesta, himself a Catholic, did not respond.

Cella said these advisers in "viciously mocking Catholics as they have, turn the clock back to the days of the 20th-century ‘No Catholics Need Apply’ type of discrimination. Hillary Clinton and her campaign should be ashamed of themselves and should immediately apologize to all Catholics and people of goodwill in the United States."

In one series of emails, Clinton staffers discussed language to be used in an op-ed Clinton submitted to NCR, which was published in September during Pope Francis' visit to the U.S. 

In another leaked email to Podesta, Sandy Newman, president of Voices for Progress, said: "This whole controversy with the bishops opposing contraceptive coverage, even though 98 percent of Catholic women, and their conjugal partners, have used contraception, has me thinking. ... 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.

"Is contraceptive coverage an issue around which that could happen?" he asked in a Feb. 10, 2012, email, adding later “Of course, this idea may just reveal my total lack of understanding of the Catholic church.”

Podesta responded the next day: “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.”

In a statement Wednesday Christopher Hale, executive director of Catholics in Alliance, pushed back against descriptions of the organization as a Democratic operative, saying in the past month it has been called both “radical right wingers” and a “lapdog for liberals” -- to Hale, “a strong sign that we're willing to go beyond stale partisan labels to promote the faith's social mission in public life.” He added the only revolution it has interest in is bringing the pope's "revolution of tenderness" into U.S. politics. 

“Contrary to what others have said, my colleagues and I would never try to divide the Church against itself for political ends. We've time and again challenged both Democrats and Republicans -- often at some political cost -- to be better stewards of the common good,” he said. “You can question our politics, but don't ever question the sincerity of our faith or our love of the Catholic Church.”

The emails about Catholics in Alliance and Catholics United were highlighted Thursday in Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s weekly column, where he recalled an experience with two members of Catholics United ahead of the 2008 presidential election, whom he described as “obvious flacks for the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party -- creatures of a political machine, not men of the Church.”

“Thanks to their work, and activists like them, American Catholics helped to elect an administration that has been the most stubbornly unfriendly to religious believers, institutions, concerns and liberty in generations,” he said.

The archbishop blasted the leaked emails as “contemptuously anti-Catholic” and shared portions of an unnamed friend’s email who described them as “some of the worst bigotry by a political machine I have seen.”

“Of course it would be wonderful for the Clinton campaign to repudiate the content of these ugly WikiLeaks emails. All of us backward-thinking Catholics who actually believe what Scripture and the Church teach would be so very grateful,” Chaput wrote.

[NCR staff writer Brian Roewe (@BrianRoewe) contributed to this report.]


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