By Kevin J. Jones
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput did not enjoy his first and only encounter with two leaders of Catholics United.
“It was an interesting experience,” Archbishop Chaput recounted in his Oct. 13 column for Catholic Philly magazine.
“Both men were obvious flacks for the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party – creatures of a political machine, not men of the Church; less concerned with Catholic teaching than with its influence,” he said.
“And presumably (for them) bishops were dumb enough to be used as tools, or at least prevented from helping the other side.”
Right now the group is in the news after being mentioned in a leak of emails published by the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks. The Feb. 10-11, 2012 emails were reputedly hacked from the account of John Podesta, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s current campaign manager, former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, and past president of the Center for American Progress think tank.
Sandy Newman, president of the progressive organization Voices for Progress, wrote Podesta about the controversy over Catholic resistance to the Obama administration’s then-new rule mandating insurance plan coverage of contraceptives, including some drugs that can cause abortions.
For Newman, a longtime political actor who once hired a young Barack Obama for a voter registration project in Illinois in 1993, the controversy appeared to be a chance to foment revolution within the Church.
“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,” Newman suggested to Podesta.
“Even if the idea isn’t crazy, I don’t qualify to be involved and I have not thought at all about how one would ‘plant the seeds of the revolution,’ or who would plant them,” Newman added. “Just wondering…”
To this email, Podesta 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,” Podesta replied, according to the email. “Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up.”
Podesta suggested consultation with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former Lt. Governor of Maryland and daughter of Robert F. Kennedy.
In his column, Archbishop Chaput recounted his visit from two young men from Catholics United just weeks before the 2008 presidential election between Barack Obama and John McCain.
The two men “voiced great concern at the manipulative skill of Catholic agents for the Republican Party,” Archbishop Chaput reported. “And they hoped my brother bishops and I would resist identifying the Church with single-issue and partisan (read: abortion) politics.”
“Yet these two young men not only equaled but surpassed their Republican cousins in the talents of servile partisan hustling,” the archbishop charged. “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.”
“I never saw either young man again. The cultural damage done by the current White House has – apparently — made courting America’s bishops unnecessary,” the archbishop lamented. “But bad can always get worse.”
The archbishop noted other emails in the leak showing staffers at the Center for American Progress insulting Catholics and Catholic converts, claiming they “must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.”
He cited a letter from a nationally prominent non-Catholic attorney experienced in Church-State relations. The attorney declared the emails “some of the worst bigotry by a political machine I have seen… (a) Church has an absolute right to protect itself when under attack as a faith and Church by civil political forces.”
He suggested it would be nice if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repudiated its content: “All of us backward-thinking Catholics who actually believe what Scripture and the Church teach would be so very grateful.”
Yet Archbishop Chaput appeared no friendlier to Clinton’s leading rival. He recounted a friend’s description of the leading political candidates: “A vulgar, boorish lout and disrespecter of women, with a serious impulse control problem; or a scheming, robotic liar with a lifelong appetite for power and an entourage riddled with anti-Catholic bigots.”
The archbishop lamented that in a country where the concept of choice is “the unofficial state religion,” the menu is “remarkably small.”
His unnamed attorney interlocutor also reflected on the state of the country, saying that before the leaks there was been “strong evidence” of the current administration’s hostility to religious organizations.
“Now there is clear proof that this approach is deliberate and will accelerate if these actors have any continuing, let alone louder, say in government,” the attorney said, according to the archbishop’s column.
The attorney charged there is an active strategy to shape Catholicism into the religion the political leaders wish.
“Look where we are now. We have political actors trying to orchestrate a coup to destroy Catholic values, and they even analogize their takeover to a coup in the Middle East, which amplifies their bigotry and hatred of the Church,” the attorney said.
After 2008, Catholics United would go on to run efforts in Colorado and in Pennsylvania critical of the Catholic Church. It would also go on to take funding from the Gill Foundation of Tim Gill, a politically savvy Colorado-based millionaire businessman, and from the Arcus Foundation of billionaire heir Jon Stryker. Both men are deeply influential LGBT activists involved in funding Catholic dissenting groups and efforts to restrict religious freedom they consider discriminatory.
Catholics United’s aligned organization, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, received hundreds of thousands of dollars from billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations from 2006-2010.