Some Catholics were left scratching their heads by the kerfuffle created by the revelation of hacked emails of the Clinton campaign.
Conservative Catholic groups and some members of the hierarchy were quick to accuse the writers of the emails of participating in an anti-Catholic smear. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia called for an apology from the Clinton campaign.
“Of course it would be wonderful for the Clinton campaign to repudiate the content of these ugly WikiLeaks emails,” he said.
Catholic League President Bill Donohue said that John Podesta, campaign chair for Clinton, should be fired for his participation in the controversial email exchange: “He is fomenting revolution in the Catholic Church, creating mutiny and is totally unethical.”
Not all Catholics agree with such grandiose assessments, which suggest a nefarious plot against the Catholic Church. More progressive Catholics view the email exchange as an honest dialogue — intended to be private — between people (all Catholics themselves, by the way) discussing how to respond to a conservative element in the Catholic Church that seems intent on turning back the advances of Vatican II.
In the emails, John Halpin, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, suggests that the Catholicism of some socially conservative Catholics, including members of the Supreme Court, is “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.”
Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign director of communications, responds, “I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelical.”
As Pope Francis has often indicated, the Catholic Church is a large tent that allows for many opinions and perspectives within its flaps. The writers of the emails in question can be seen as Catholics expressing their views about how their faith intersects with public policy and social agenda.
The emails can likewise be interpreted as drafted by Catholics who are concerned that their Church risks becoming irrelevant, rather than being interpreted as smears on a Church they disdain.
Palmieri’s response actually seems more denigrating to Evangelicals than to Catholics. Progressive Catholics understand precisely what is being communicated in the exchange. It is not unlike other familiar conversations among clergy and Catholics who have been buoyed by the strides of Pope Francis, and his emphasis on social justice over controversial moral and sexual teachings.
Many Catholics do believe, as the emails suggest, that Church teaching needs to evolve more quickly if it is to have a relevant impact on a rapidly evolving world. Those Catholics are also sympathetic to the reality that private email exchanges may be less than diplomatic and not always politically correct in expressing those heartfelt concerns.
In responding to an email by Sandy Newman of Voices for Progress, who suggests the need for a “Catholic Spring”, John Podesta writes, “We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this…Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up.”
This hardly sounds like a man intent on creating an “unethical mutiny.” Rather, it sounds more like a concerned Catholic attempting to align his faith with his political ideals and principles, albeit from his left-of-center perspective.
Pope Francis has said, “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern.”
The meddling of a few wonky Catholic Clinton campaigners should be less concerning to us than the meddling of far more impious entities who hack private emails and illegally release them, to a populace all too ready to put its own spin on them.