Right-wing Americans see liberal conspiracies everywhere. Often their claims are fatuous — Donald Trump has just announced that the 2016 presidential election has been ‘rigged’ — and sometimes they incorporate poisonous myths about Jewish puppet masters. But liberals, like activists across the spectrum, do occasionally engage in co-ordinated plotting. The question is: what would a real liberal conspiracy — as opposed to some noxious far-right fantasy — look like, and how would it operate?
Now we know, thanks to WikiLeaks. Two batches of documents — one leaked this month, one in August — show that top-level Democrats and their allies have successfully infiltrated the Catholic Church in order to advance their social agenda. The two key players are John Podesta, chairman of the Hillary Clinton campaign, who is an extremely liberal Catholic, and George Soros, the left-wing billionaire philanthropist, who is an atheist.
In any other presidential election, this story would be huge. But this time round, no Democrat scandal can match the grotesque antics of the Republican candidate. And Trump himself — who, naturally, knows nothing about Catholicism — doesn’t even appear to understand what WikiLeaks have revealed.
On 12 October, in its daily ‘dump’ of emails hacked from Podesta’s Gmail account, WikiLeaks published comments by Jennifer Palmieri, now Clinton’s communications director, in which she mocked Republicans who converted to Catholicism because their ‘rich friends’ found it more ‘socially acceptable’ than evangelicalism. She was replying to emails (copied to Podesta) from John Halpin, a Democrat strategist, attacking these Republican Catholics for their ‘bastardisation of the faith’ — and the church for ‘severely backwards gender relations’. Cue outrage from conservative Catholics and Trump at the Clinton ‘smear’. But this was easily shrugged off by Hillary supporters because Halpin and Palmieri are both Catholics, voicing unremarkable snooty liberal opinions. Also, Palmieri wasn’t working for Clinton when the emails were written in 2011.
Podesta — a lawyer and veteran Democratic arm-twister who was Bill Clinton’s last chief of staff — must have been relieved that the secular media focused on Halpin and Palmieri rather than on another set of leaked emails. On 11 February 2012, Sandy Newman, a non-Catholic progressive activist, wrote to Podesta suggesting he should ‘plant the seeds of a revolution’ by driving a wedge between the US Catholic bishops, who opposed Obama on contraception, and ordinary Catholics who use birth control. His email was catchlined: ‘Opening for a Catholic Spring?’ Podesta replied: ‘We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organise for a moment like this … likewise Catholics United.’
‘We’ means the Democrats. Podesta has worked for the party since George McGovern’s 1972 bid for the presidency, and before that volunteered for Eugene McCarthy. For Democrat operatives of his vintage, the ‘creation’ of progressive lobby groups is second nature. But they’d rather do so beneath the radar. On the whole, they’ve succeeded. The American Catholic left is crawling with acronyms. Republicans, busy with their own lobbying, can’t be bothered to keep track of them. And many conservative Catholics gloss over details in favour of broad-brush conspiracy theories. That can’t be said, however, of the formidable Dr Anne Hendershott, a conservative Catholic professor of sociology. For years she has been keeping an eye on Podesta’s two ‘creations’, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United, as well as other nominally Catholic organisations.
These organisations share political goals and exchange staff: Alexia Kelley, a founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, was appointed by Obama to the Center for Faith Based and Community Initiatives. They also draw on some of the same bank accounts. A prominent donor is Soros, who has given $450,000 to Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and $300,000 to the pro-abortion Catholics for a Free Choice.
In August, WikiLeaks published a report by Soros’s US Opportunities Fund on the $650,000 it spent on Pope Francis’s 2015 visit to the United States. Working through left-wing faith groups, the Fund planned a ‘buy-in of individual bishops to more publicly voice support of economic and racial justice messages in order to begin to create a critical mass of bishops who are aligned with the Pope’. For ‘aligned with the Pope’, read ‘Democrat-friendly’. The Fund wants to tilt the balance of power against conservative prelates such as Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. Chaput is indeed out of favour with Francis — but he’s even more disliked by Democrats, having just denounced Hillary Clinton as a ‘scheming, robotic liar’ and Podesta’s Catholics United as ‘creatures of a political machine’.
What business is this of the US Opportunities Fund? Soros is a Jewish non-believer who is appalled by Catholic teaching on abortion, euthanasia, population control and gay marriage. The answer lies, perhaps, in that ‘Catholic Spring’ email from Newman. More than half of Catholic voters support Hillary. This is partly a reaction to the GOP’s nomination of ‘a vulgar, boorish lout and disrespecter of women’ — Chaput’s description of Trump. But it also reflects US Catholics’ lack of identification with the church’s unfashionable stances on divorce, gay marriage, birth control and, up to a point, abortion.
The Democrats sniff an opportunity, and in some respects you can’t blame them. For decades, well-funded conservative Catholic intellectuals pushed a Republican agenda. Right-wing Catholics were over-represented in the Supreme Court and had the ear of George W Bush. But the emergence of Trump, with his fictional pro-life credentials and disdain for Christian morality, has left the Catholic-GOP alliance in ruins. Also, there’s been regime change in Rome.
Pope Francis dislikes American capitalism far more intensely than his predecessor Benedict; he favours the lavish government programmes and open-door immigration advocated by US progressives. One of his closest advisers, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, is a supporter of PICO (People Improving Communities through Organising), one of the recipients of Soros’s $650,000. The leaked US Opportunities Fund document boasts of using the cardinal’s influence to carry its message.
This surely goes beyond simple payback time by Democrats sick of seeing right-wing Catholics pulling Republican strings. The strings being pulled now are those of a church, not a political party. Not only are Clinton supporters energising religious activists, they are also working through ‘Catholic’ front organisations.
There are echoes here of the fake Catholic groups set up by Eastern bloc regimes to manufacture support for regimes that fundamentally despised the church. Whether American Catholics pick up those echoes during the coming Clinton administration remains to be seen.