You wouldn’t expect Hillary Clinton’s staff and senior supporters to think very highly of conservative Catholics. But reading their own words, when they don’t think anyone else will ever see them, is still jarring.Share
“Many of the most powerful elements of the conservative movement are all Catholic (many converts) … They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.”
That exasperated outburst came from John Halpin, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, in an exchange with Jennifer Palmieri, Hillary Clinton’s director of communications. Palmieri responded that she believes that many well-connected conservatives are Catholic because they think it’s “the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.” We learned about this conversation when WikiLeaks recently dumped thousands of emails pilfered from John Podesta, a long-time ally of the Clinton family and chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Halpin and Palmieri’s comments were written back in 2011, long before Mrs Clinton second run for the presidency. Even so they were revealing. But the WikiLeaks hack also contained an even more intriguing exchange, between Podesta himself and Sandy Newman, founder and president of a liberal charity called Voices for Progress.
On February 10, 2012, Newman wrote to Podesta, rankled by US bishops who opposed mandatory coverage of contraception by insurance companies. “There needs to be a Catholic Spring,” he said, “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.”
He continued: “I have not thought at all about how one would ‘plant the seeds of the revolution,’ or who would plant them. Just wondering…”
Podesta, who is a practising Catholic, responded: “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.”
It’s hardly surprising that liberal activists would create organisations devoted to left-wing goals. But these comments should open up fresh debate about the use of religious groups for political ends – and the often close relationship between a small circle of powerful Democrats and liberal Catholic groups.
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) was founded in 2006 to promote Catholic social teaching. The organisation’s current executive director, Christopher Hale, has responded strongly to the controversy, declaring in a press release that “contrary to what others have said, my colleagues and I would never try to divide the Church against itself for political ends”.
In a telephone interview with the Catholic Herald, Hale said that he became the leader of CACG in December 2013, and that whatever the group’s origins, he wants to “challenge the orthodoxies” of both sides so they can be “better stewards of the common good.”
He added: “The language of the alleged stolen emails does not represent what we’ve done at CACG under my leadership.”
Still, the organisation’s closer relationship to the Democratic Party in its early years is undeniable. The group’s first chair was Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, an important Democratic Party fundraiser; her late husband, the tobacco heir Smith Bagley, was an influential figure in Democratic politics as a donor, fundraiser and strategist. He was also president of the Arca Foundation, a left-wing charity opposed to many aspects of traditional Catholic teaching. In 2006, Arca had the same address as CACG. (Read more.)