Politics

WikiLeaks uncovers confirmation of Podesta’s “Catholic Spring” infrastructure

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good met with Obama transition team in 2008

In mid-October, WikiLeaks began to release a flurry of emails hacked from the computer of John Podesta, current Chairman of the Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign for president, formerly Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton and Counselor to President Barack Obama. The emails have revealed a good deal of the sausage-making of politics, and included a 2011 string of missives exchanged between several then-Obama team operatives who discussed the “backward” and recalcitrant Catholic church and wondered how revolution might be fomented within her, so that the Church might become less about teaching truth throughout the ages, than about sowing the present age amid her truths. In a now-famous continuance of that thinking, a 2012 email to Podesta reads in part:

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To this suggestion by Sandy Newman, Podesta admitted that operatives within the party had in fact helped to to create structures ready to help change the church.

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A new email has now surfaced confirming that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) did in fact meet with the Obama-Biden transition team in December of 2008, as the new administration prepared to enter the White House. In an email headed “Transition Meeting — please do not forward this email” Alexia Kelley, a founder and Executive Director of the CACG, summarized what she called a “productive” meeting, and included an outline of the 75 minute meeting. Kelly wrote:

Yesterday our Catholics in Alliance Community met with the Obama-Biden Transition team. Catholics in Alliance organized the meeting as part of our movement coordination and support work…It was a very productive conversation, and we felt that the transition staff understood the breadth and strength of the Catholic common good movement, as well as our community’s policy priorities and expertise. We also had substantive policy dialogue around various justice and peace concerns within the policy categories we discussed… The issues priorities we presented were the top 5 themes [Reduce abortions through robust alternatives; End death penalty; Treat federal budgets as moral documents; Enhance workers rights and union contract negotiation;Change criminal justice so it reduces recidivism and ends discrimination – Ed] that were represented in the Platform for the Common Good which 20 participating organizations and over 800 grassroots Catholic leaders affirmed in July at the first-ever national Convention for the Common Good.

The email simply confirms what Podesta said in 2012, but it is worth remembering that during any administration’s transition period, there are many meetings taken with representatives of organizations perceived as having helped achieve electoral victory. Nevertheless a few things can be taken away from this email:

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good was founded in 2005 with funding that included a $50,000 grant by George Soros’ Open Society Institute (OSI), with an additional monies totaling $450,000 between 2006-2010. While the organization indisputably represents the interests of more progressive Catholics, it was considered problematic by the abortion-rights group “Catholics for Choice” which objected to CACG’s 2008 platform, part of which reframed the abortion issue, making it less about the Roe v Wade battle than about reducing the number of abortions through the funding of alternative social programs.

The meeting taken with the Obama team suggests that the organization was considered a noteworthy influence in directing the Catholic vote toward Obama, and that the administration, committed to pushing the Affordable Care Act through while in control of both houses of Congress, would be looking to members of the Alliance, like NETWORK’s Sister Simone Campbell, to help promote that legislation among Catholics. The issue of “contraceptive coverage,” mentioned by Newman in her email, was and remains a key issue in the United State’s Conference of Catholic Bishop’s resistance to the administration’s HHS Mandate requiring all church-related institutions to provide employees with insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients. The USCCB has called the mandate “unjust and illegal” and has characterized it as a clear and present threat to religious liberty.

Recall that Podesta expressed doubt that the infrastructure that had been in place in 2008 had the leadership to be effective in 2012, and his suggestion that “Like most Spring movements, this one will have to be from the bottom up.” The Catholic News Agency reported in 2010, after the passing of the Affordable Care Act, that CACG had ceased most of its operations. The organization’s website suggests it is active but more Millennial-focused, under new leadership, and enthusiastically in support of the Holy Father. Its current Executive Director, Christopher Hale was recently featured taking the “pro” side in a debate with Dawn Eden Goldstein on the issue of female deacons.