Hillary Clinton’s campaign is being pilloried by right-wing media and conservative Catholic activists for supposedly “mocking” Catholics in emails released by WikiLeaks from campaign manager John Podesta’s email account.
In what the Washington Times is characterizing as an “assault on Catholics,” Clinton campaign spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri discussed conservative Catholics in an email exchange with John Halpin, a senior fellow at the progressive Center for American Progress. Halpin marveled that two prominent conservatives, Fox News creator and News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, and Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Robert Thompson, are raising their kids Catholic, noting that Murdoch even had his kids baptized “in Jordan where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.”
Halpin went on to say, “Many of the most powerful elements of the conservative movement are all Catholic (many converts) from the [Supreme Court] and think tanks to the media and social groups.”
This isn’t a “mocking” of Catholics or an attack on them, it’s merely an observation of the fact that while most people associate political conservatism with evangelicals, the reality is that many of the most wealthy, socially prominent conservatives are Catholics—often, as Halpin notes, converts to Catholicism like CNBC host and supply-side evangelist Larry Kudlow, Newt Gingrich, Robert Bork, and Robert Novak.
This observation prompted Palmieri to surmise:
I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.
Maybe not totally complimentary, but hardly attacking Catholics. Halpin also notes, rather astutely, that what seems to be attracting conservatives to the church is “the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations,” a dynamic that that I’ve pointed to before. Palmieri replies, “Good Point. They can throw around ‘Thomistic’ thought and ‘subsidiarity’ and sound sophisticated because no one knows what the hell they’re talking about.”
Acton Institute: I believe she’s on to your shtick.
Halpin points out, again not incorrectly, that the strain of Catholic conservatism favored by people like Murdoch, which blends the restrictive sexual orthodoxy of Pope John Paul II Catholicism with a free-market orthodoxy found nowhere in the teachings or traditions of the church, is a “bastardization of the faith.” I’m pretty sure that Pope Francis made the exact same point.
Predictably, the Trump campaign, which is groping for a way to deal with new reports of Trump’s groping, seized on the emails as evidence of deep anti-Catholic animus on Clinton’s part. In a conference call with reporters, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway called on Clinton “to apologize and to fire the staff who have engaged in this vicious anti-Catholic bigotry.”
Several conservative Catholic groups like CatholicVote.org also called on Palmieri to resign. Both Conway and House Speaker Paul Ryan seized on the “backwards gender relations” comment to suggest that Clinton staffers had called Catholics backwards, when in fact Halpin was specifically criticizing Catholic gender theory that most Catholics disagree with.
The reality is that most of the leaked comments weren’t anything you won’t hear around numerous dinner tables when any family of Catholics—or increasingly, ex-Catholics—discusses the state of the church.
For instance, Sandy Newman of Voices for Progress tells Podesta that 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.” My family usually gets to this after about the third glass of wine on Thanksgiving.
More telling than commonplace observations about the current state of the Catholic church and the highly selective conservative Catholicism of the Rupert Murdochs of the world is the slate of Catholics whom Trump picked for his so-called Council of Catholic Advisors.
Among the Catholics on the panel are former Senator Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum; Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List PAC; Father Frank Pavone, the controversial head of Priests for Life; Marjorie Murphy Campbell, the founder and publisher of New Feminism, which is neither new nor feminist; Kim Davis-backer and “religious liberty” activist Keith Fournier, Austin Ruse of C-FAM; and Domino’s pizza magnate Tom Monaghan, founder of the uber conservative Ave Maria School of Law.
It would be hard to find a group of Catholics who are less representative of mainstream Catholic America. They are committed anti-choice, anti-LGBT rights activists who use religion in service of their agenda. And in the wake of the video of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, progressive groups like Catholic Democrats have called on the advisory group to repudiate Trump.
“As Catholics, we have a special obligation to make our voices heard when we see any individual use a position of power to sexually exploit another,” said Steve Krueger, president of Catholic Democrats. “Catholics are all too keenly aware of both the damage of sexual abuse on victims—sometimes life threatening—as well as the connection between sexual abuse and the abuse of power.”
It’s an irony that I’m sure will be lost on the Trump campaign—as well as his “Catholic” supporters.