Podesta e-mails: Conservative Catholicism an "an amazing bastardization of the faith"

The Wikileaks hack of the e-mail system of Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta has produced plenty of strange moments, but perhaps none stranger than a 2011 discussion of Catholicism in which Podesta himself played no part. The brief exchange between Jennifer Palmieri, now Hillary’s comms director but at the time working at the Center for American Progress, and CAP fellow John Halpin sounds so bitter and offers such silly arguments about Catholicism that it looks fake. If legit, these hacked e-mails provide a rather disturbing look into the minds of Hillary’s brain trust when it comes to Catholics, especially conservative Catholics.


It’s worth pointing out that the exposure of this conversation took place through theft — the illegal hacking of private e-mails from a private organization. This isn’t the same thing as public-sector communications released via FOIA requests. None of this was intended for public consumption nor did it have a connection at that time to offices of public trust; rather, it reads like an exercise in venting between colleagues. It starts off with a bitter rant from Halpin over news that Rupert Murdoch’s family are raising their children in the Catholic faith. The subject line is “Conservative Catholicism,” but the antagonism goes broader than that:

Ken Auletta’s latest piece on Murdoch in the New Yorker starts off with the aside that both Murdoch and Robert Thompson, managing editor of the WSJ, are raising their kids Catholic. Friggin’ Murdoch baptized his kids in Jordan where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

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.

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.

Note that this doesn’t allege that conservative Catholics have “severely backwards gender relations,” but that conservatives get drawn to Catholicism because of this supposed feature. Somehow, this indicates a deficiency in knowledge of the nineteenth-century political development of Christian democracy in Europe, a non-sequitur that could give one whiplash.


Jennifer Palmieri then replies:

I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.

Er … what? Granted, Palmieri has a caveat that evangelical Christianity is more conservative than Catholicism, but even as a conservative Catholic, this statement sounds like nonsense. Catholicism when applied to politics isn’t a conservative or a progressive religion; it’s a challenging blend of both, and transcends the political paradigm. There are other denominations of Protestant Christianity that are more politically conservative than Catholicism; the criticism of Catholics from other conservatives on everything except abortion is almost legendary. (Any discussion of the HHS contraception mandate, for instance, will almost immediately include a rebuttal that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops backed universal health care for the past century, and initially wanted to support ObamaCare.)

The American church is perhaps trending a little more conservative over the last several years, and some leading conservatives also happen to be Catholic, but overall the Catholic electorate is about as diverse as any other in the US. For the last few decades, it has paralleled the overall vote in nearly every election, while evangelicals have managed to remain a distinct and conservative voting bloc. To not know this is to display an almost willful ignorance about American politics.

Halpin adds to the nonsense with this reply:

Excellent point. They can throw around “Thomistic” thought and “subsidiarity” and sound sophisticated because no one knows what the hell they’re talking about.


I’d grant the point on “Thomism” if I had ever heard anyone use it in a political context before now. Thomism is the philosophical school of St. Thomas Aquinas, a doctor of the Catholic Church, and one of the most impenetrable writers of all time, at least in my experience. It’s easier to study Thomism than Aquinas, but Thomism isn’t overtly political in nature. About the closest it comes is an implicit rejection of moral relativism and a more explicit rejection of hedonism. I’ve been around conservative Catholics for a while, but it’s possible I missed a stray reference to “Thomism” as a basis for an argument, but it’s hardly common.

As for subsidiarity, it’s perfectly easy to explain, even if sometimes overused. Subsidiarity holds that resources are best applied closest to where they are needed. Politically, it means that governance works best when it is as local as possible, because the smaller political units know the problems and solutions the best, an approach which puts the family as the primary community. But that also has to be paired with solidarity, which holds (oversimplified for brevity) that the more people who contribute to solutions, the better the outcome can be. Both of these in Catholicism are more oriented to voluntary participation, but in a self-governed society, that can also take the form of organization by government. Catholics are called to exercise prudential judgment in deciding on the best course that keeps all of these virtues and factors in mind. Neither are difficult concepts to understand.

In other words, this short e-mail chain is utter nonsense, a kind of word salad apparently intended to make the participants sound like experts in Catholicism … to themselves. It demonstrates bitter bigotry more than it does actual insight. If this is legit, then it speaks volumes about the people with whom Hillary Clinton surrounds herself.


But are these legit, or are they made up? I keep coming back to this because, as I wrote last night on Twitter, this e-mail thread seems too bad to be true. It’s almost tailor-made for a backlash. To listen to some media outlets, illegitimacy was a possibility, as they warned that some of these may be forgeries. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald wrote yesterday that those allegations are nonsense:

To see how extreme and damaging this behavior has become, let’s just quickly examine two utterly false claims that Democrats over the past four days — led by party-loyal journalists — have disseminated and induced thousands of people, if not more, to believe. On Friday, WikiLeaks published its first installment of emails obtained from the account of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Despite WikiLeaks’ perfect, long-standing record of only publishing authentic documents, MSNBC’s favorite ex-intelligence official, Malcolm Nance, within hours of the archive’s release, posted a tweet claiming — with zero evidence and without citation to a single document in the WikiLeaks archive — that it was compromised with fakes …

As you can see, more than 4,000 people have re-tweeted this “Official Warning.” That includes not only random Clinton fans but also high-profileClinton-supporting journalists, who by spreading it around gave this claim their stamp of approval, intentionally leading huge numbers of people to assume the WikiLeaks archive must be full of fakes, and its contents should therefore simply be ignored. Clinton’s campaign officials spent the day fueling these insinuations, strongly implying that the documents were unreliable and should thus be ignored. Poof: Just like that, unpleasant facts about Hillary Clinton disappeared, like a fairy protecting frightened children by waving her magic wand and sprinkling her dust over a demon, causing it to scatter away.

Except the only fraud here was Nance’s claim, not any of the documents published by WikiLeaks. Those were all real. Indeed, at Sunday night’s debate, when asked directly about the excerpts of her Wall Street speeches found in the release, Clinton herself confirmed their authenticity. And news outlets such as the New York Times and AP reported — and continue to report — on their contents without any caveat that they may be frauds. No real print journalists or actual newsrooms (as opposed to campaign operatives masquerading as journalists) fell for this scam, so this tactic did not prevent reporting from being done.


The confirmation from Hillary was less than comprehensive, and did allow for the argument that some information may not be “accurate”:

But, you know, let’s talk about what’s really going on here, Martha, because our intelligence community just came out and said in the last few days that the Kremlin, meaning Putin and the Russian government, are directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election. And WikiLeaks is part of that, as are other sites where the Russians hack information, we don’t even know if it’s accurate information, and then they put it out.

It is true, though, that Hillary has not disputed any of the specific contents of the e-mails produced. So far, neither has anyone else other than Kurt Eichenwald, a claim that prompted Greenwald’s rebuttal and which he specifically dismantles. That leaves us with the assumption that these sadly ignorant rants from Palmieri and Halpin are legitimate as the insight into the disdain that CAP officials have for Catholics, especially when it gives them the opportunity to mock their political bêtes noires.

Update: Corrected “an intellectual deficiency in the nineteenth-century political development” to “a deficiency in knowledge of …” which is what I meant to communicate. The other way around suggests an intellectual deficiency in the political development, which may be arguable but wasn’t what I meant.

Also, John Zmirak writes at The Stream that this shows that Catholics are part of the “deplorables,” and explains the reference to Thomism much better than I did:

“Thomistic thought” says that just cause man fell, he’s not too dumb or bad to “get” the world. His brain still works, just not as well. So when he reads the Good Book, he can use his brain to see how its truths and rules play out in day to day stuff. (Like don’t kill kids that have not been born yet and sell their parts for cash. It’s wrong.)

“Subsidiarity” says that the U.N. should not run the high school down the street. The White House should not set your town’s tax rates. The best way to run stuff is to let folks who are close to that stuff do it. They know more, and so they make better picks on what to do. Plus, they are the ones who have to live with it, so it’s more fair that way.

And just for fun:

“Severely backward gender relations” is how mean girls speak of the Church since it does things in old ways. Christ lived in the past, so He did things in old ways, but He would do them our new way if He were here now, since He does what we like and gives us what we want.

Whew, that was hard to write. But the effort was instructive. Now I know how to speak, very slowly, to the graduates of Jesuit colleges like Tim Kaine, who have long ago decided that faithful Christians are always wrong, whatever we do: When we speak simply and to the heart, we are snake-handling bigots. When we use philosophical language, we are juggling sophistries to cover some sinister agenda. We are the enemy. We must be stopped. We are Deplorables.


I’d still guess that the main objection to Thomism is its adherence to the view of eternal and objective truth, but YMMV.

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Jazz Shaw 8:31 AM on December 09, 2023