Tuesday, October 18, 2016
On the Wikileaks "Catholic Spring" emails
As MOJ readers probably know, among the DNC emails hacked and leaked by Wikileaks (story here and here and here) are some exchanges among Clinton insiders that, among other things, call for a "Catholic Spring" and that express pretty clear disdain for "conservative" Catholics. Our own Robby George commented on these exchanges, in the Wall Street Journal, here.
A number of politically-left-leaning Catholics have pushed back against the idea that there's anything particularly troubling or anti-Catholic about these emails, including Michael Sean Winters (here), Anthony Annett (here), E.J. Dionne (here), and -- one of the participants in the exchange -- John Halpin (here). These and other commentators contend that, for example, the emails " tell a far more interesting tale about the struggles inside the Catholic Church in the period before the ascendancy of Pope Francis" (Dionne), that they simply reflect a "react[ion] in a private email to the arguments of leading conservatives who often misuse Catholicism to defend their agenda" (Halpin), that their discussion of a "Catholic Spring" should be seen as highlighting "the genuine need for a corrective balance" and "a call for something very much like the agenda of Pope Francis" (Annett), and that one participant's charge that "the right-wing attempt to co-opt Catholicism for the Republican Party [has] been a bastardization of the faith" is, well, right.
Certainly, it is not news that politically-left-leaning Catholics believe that politically-right-leaning Catholics are focusing too much on abortion at the expense of other issues, are insufficiently critical of the Republican Party (or insufficiently attached to the Democratic Party), are "co-opting" the Catholic Social Tradition and various bishops for "right-wing" purposes, etc. In my view, these beliefs are unwarranted (or, at least, held with a confidence and fervor that the facts do not justify). Nor, really, is it news that political-left operatives and activists like the people involved in this email exchange regard many of the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church with bemusement, if not contempt. (See, e.g., Halpin: "They must be attracted to the . . . severely backwards gender relations.") It's not news that Catholics are divided not only about the political implications of the faith but, more fundamentally, about what (and who decides what) "the Faith" is.
So, since it's all old news, maybe Winters is right that the "Catholic email scandal is no scandal" (indeed, maybe it's a no-doubt-unintended compliment!). In my view, though, it should be troubling -- to "progressive" Catholics as well as others -- that political operatives like John Podesta, who has been associated with Clinton campaigns and administrations for decades, admits that his organization set up (with funding from the Koch Brothers . . . I mean, George Soros) groups with the purpose of promoting a "revolution" -- 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." This is not a call for dialogue among Catholics about how best to live out the faith; it's strategy-and-tactics about how to co-opt and marginalize an opposing force.
This is not, contrary to the suggestions of some, simply a call for the full spectrum of the Catholic Social Tradition to be proposed to our politics, in the public square. The exchange was not just an intra-Catholic discussion about the possibility of changes in Church practices under Pope Francis, or a thoughtful corrective to the selective misuse or blinkered use by some "conservatives" of Catholic Social Teaching. The nature of the "revolution" to be hoped for, funded, and supported is to make the Catholic Church more like the Center for American Progress imagines itself to be (I say "imagined" because contemporary progressives' attachment to "democracy" is, well, complicated.)
Just as a reminder: Here's Sandy Newman, sounding pretty much like Paul Blanshard or Loraine Boettner:
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. Is contraceptive coverage an issue around which that could > happen. The Bishops will undoubtedly continue the fight. Does the Catholic > Hospital Association support of the Administration's new policy, together > with "the 98%" create an opportunity? > > Of course, this idea may just reveal my total lack of understanding of the > Catholic church, the economic power it can bring to bear against nuns and > priests who count on it for their maintenance, etc. 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. > Just wondering . . .
"The economic power it can bring to bear against nuns and priests who count on it for their maintenance, etc." No, this isn't just a call for Catholic Social Thought in the public square. It's ignorant, and it should be offensive . . . to "progressives" and "conservatives" alike.