“I believed myself to be doing good”

Yesterday, Edward Pentin ran a lengthy interview with Francesco Cardinal Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, about his new book about chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia. It is a stunning interview, especially given Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s role as one of the Church’s top lawyers. In fact, as we read it, we had the sense that it was going disastrously and, what’s more, the participants knew how badly it was going. An excerpt:

Isn’t it better to try to stop the situation of sin completely?

How can you stop the whole thing if that will harm people? It is important that this person doesn’t want to be in this union, wants to leave this union, wants to leave, but cannot do it. There are two things to put together: I want to, but I cannot. And I cannot — not for my own sake, but for the sake of other people. I cannot for the sake of other people.

If the two can live together as brother and sister, that’s great. But if they cannot because this would break up the union, which ought to be conserved for the good of these people, then they manage as best they can. Do you see? That’s it. And it seems this whole complicated thing has a logical explanation, motivation. If others depart from other points of view, they can also arrive at other conclusions. But I would say there would be something missing of the human person. I can’t damage a person to avoid a sin in a situation that I haven’t put myself into; I already find myself in it, one in which I, if I am this woman, have put myself into without a bad intention. On the contrary, I’m trying to do good, and, at that moment, I believed myself to be doing good, and certainly I did do good. But maybe if, already at the beginning I had known, if I knew with moral certitude that this is a sin, maybe I would not have put myself in that condition. But now I already find myself there: How can I go back? It is one thing to begin, another to interrupt. These are also different things, no?

(Emphasis supplied.)

In keeping with our Lenten suggestion, here is a passage from St. John Paul’s encyclical Veritatis splendor (no. 81), which seems to be relevant to this idea:

In teaching the existence of intrinsically evil acts, the Church accepts the teaching of Sacred Scripture. The Apostle Paul emphatically states: “Do not be deceived: neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).

If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person. “As for acts which are themselves sins (cum iam opera ipsa peccata sunt), Saint Augustine writes, like theft, fornication, blasphemy, who would dare affirm that, by doing them for good motives (causis bonis), they would no longer be sins, or, what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?”.

Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.) John Paul went on to teach (no. 82):

Furthermore, an intention is good when it has as its aim the true good of the person in view of his ultimate end. But acts whose object is “not capable of being ordered” to God and “unworthy of the human person” are always and in every case in conflict with that good. Consequently, respect for norms which prohibit such acts and oblige semper et pro semper, that is, without any exception, not only does not inhibit a good intention, but actually represents its basic expression.

(Emphasis supplied.) Consider the full effect of what John Paul taught. First, one cannot, by means of “trying to do good” and believing oneself to be doing good, transform an objectively evil act—like adultery—into a good act. The most they can do is make it less evil. Moreover, an intention to do an objectively evil act, even, one suspects, if it is a convenient or congenial intention, cannot be a “good intention.” In other words, the intention to do an objectively evil act does not lessen the evil of the act.

In any event, it is an open question for us whether one could reasonably believe that one acted with a “good intention,” though we know that that belief would be objectively mistaken, if one intended to do something objectively evil. Again John Paul, discussing conscience (no. 58):

 The importance of this interior dialogue of man with himself can never be adequately appreciated. But it is also a dialogue of man with God, the author of the law, the primordial image and final end of man. Saint Bonaventure teaches that “conscience is like God’s herald and messenger; it does not command things on its own authority, but commands them as coming from God’s authority, like a herald when he proclaims the edict of the king. This is why conscience has binding force”. Thus it can be said that conscience bears witness to man’s own rectitude or iniquity to man himself but, together with this and indeed even beforehand, conscience is the witness of God himself, whose voice and judgment penetrate the depths of man’s soul, calling him fortiter et suaviter to obedience. “Moral conscience does not close man within an insurmountable and impenetrable solitude, but opens him to the call, to the voice of God. In this, and not in anything else, lies the entire mystery and the dignity of the moral conscience: in being the place, the sacred place where God speaks to man”.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.)

 

Aristotle, Thomas, and the “City of Rod”

Rod Dreher has released his book, The Benedict Option, setting forth one more time that which he has set forth many, many times in various essays and blog posts. Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, a leading voice among Catholic leftists, has reviewed the book at great length and, frankly, panned it. Dreher has responded to Bruenig’s review at equally great length, and you can read the whole exchange at the links above. (We will not bore you by summarizing all of Bruenig’s critiques and Dreher’s responses.) However, our attention was grabbed by one passage in Dreher’s response:

As I say in the book, Christians have to stay engaged in ordinary politics, if only to protect our religious liberty interests. (I believe we have to stay involved for other reasons too, but even if you don’t agree, you can at least agree that religious liberty is absolutely vital.) But we cannot put as much trust in politics as we have in past eras. The great error of the Religious Right over the past 30 years or so is not to have gotten politically involved. It’s to have thought that advancing the Kingdom of God was more or less synonymous with helping the Republican Party ascend to power. Our leaders (and a lot of us followers), often without knowing what we were doing, put way too much focus on political engagement, and way too little on personal spiritual formation, and what the Benedictines call “conversion of life.”

(Emphasis supplied.) For someone who claims—as Dreher does—to be encouraging Christians to recover a premodern tradition to fight the corrosive influence of liberalism, this is a stunning statement. Indeed, it constitutes nothing less than a rejection of the premodern tradition regarding politics. Let us put it another way; Bruenig is not the most stringent critic of Dreher on this point—Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas are.

A very brief review of the relevant points is perhaps in order. You no doubt know, dear reader, that Aristotle taught that man is a political animal and that the state arises from nature (Politics I.1, 1253a3–4). Aquinas follows this teaching when he observes, in the context of the natural law, that it is proper for man to know truths about living in society (ST Ia IIae q.94 a.2 co.). And this point remains noncontroversial in the tradition. Leo XIII, for example, reaffirms that it is natural to man to live in society in Immortale Dei. The great pope further reminds us that, in nature, rulers are necessary for the direction of society, even if a particular kind of ruler is not necessary (cf. ST Ia IIae q.90 a.3 co. & ad 3). And the ruler makes laws in order to make the members of the society good (ST Ia IIae q.92 a.2 co.; Ethic. X.9, 1180b24–28). Finally, politics, Aristotle tells us, is simply the practical art of making good laws (Ethic. X.9, 1180b24–25, 1181a22–b1; cf. ST Ia IIae q.95 a.2 co. & ad 3).

With these very basic principles in mind, the extent of Dreher’s error becomes obvious. Man participates in politics, either as ruler or ruled, naturally (cf. ST Ia IIae q.90 a.3 ad 1). The notion that man could withdraw from politics naturally is ridiculous (cf. Politics I.1, 1253a4–6). The notion becomes more ridiculous when one considers that the civil power comes from God, regardless of the political mechanism for its exercise and transmission. We won’t beat this dead horse further by discussing the duties of the state to God and true religion, to say nothing of the indirect subordination of state to Church. The bottom line is that the idea that a Christian could—much less should—limit his or her political engagement simply misunderstands what politics is. Now, one may say that one ought to express his or her engagement in a given way—a Catholic may vote for a pro-abortion politician only in certain circumstances when his opponent’s position on another grave matter requires it—but if that is what Dreher means, you could have fooled us.

Especially because Dreher goes on to say:

Right now, a lot of Christian conservatives believe that we dodged a bullet with the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. I agree that things aren’t as dangerous for us now as they would have been under Clinton. But it’s simply delusional to think that Trump is going to turn things around. Even if he were a saint, he couldn’t do that. As Bruenig makes clear early in her review, there is increasingly little space for us Christians, at least those who don’t go along with the latest iteration of liberalism, in the public square.

Richard John Neuhaus hoped that we would have a place there. That project has failed, it seems to me. What now? Yes, we still have to be engaged in politics, but what happens when and if we lose? We don’t suddenly cease to be Christian, or to have the obligation to serve Christ, even if we have to suffer for it. How are we going to do that? How will we find the faith and the courage within us to know when we are being asked to believe or to accept something that we cannot if we want to be faithful? Where is our “Here I stand, I can do no other” line? How will we know when we are being asked to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, living as we must as resident aliens in Babylon, and how will we find it within ourselves to go into the furnace singing, as did Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego?

(Emphasis supplied.) Given all of this, it is passing hard to imagine that Dreher simply meant to say that we have to temper our engagement, while remaining politically active as nature requires.

It is, however, not hard at all to see how Dreher loses the thread. A sharp friend of ours has observed that Dreher’s work as a journalist has influenced his thinking on this point. Recall what he said a little bit before what we just quoted:

The great error of the Religious Right over the past 30 years or so is not to have gotten politically involved. It’s to have thought that advancing the Kingdom of God was more or less synonymous with helping the Republican Party ascend to power. Our leaders (and a lot of us followers), often without knowing what we were doing, put way too much focus on political engagement, and way too little on personal spiritual formation, and what the Benedictines call “conversion of life.”

(Emphasis supplied.) In essence, Dreher’s complaint is that American Christians are bad at politics. One does not have to be a journalist reporting on politics and culture—like Dreher—to see that the deal that conservative Christians have cut, knowingly or not, with Republicans has not been a good deal historically. This is obvious. And we will not bore you with all the ways in which it is obvious. You can recite them as well as we can. But it is clear that Dreher’s reporting on this situation has affected how he thinks politics work in general terms.

And this, of course, is the great temptation for a traditionally minded or integralist Catholic (or Christian more broadly): the culture—political, popular, and otherwise—of the United States is undoubtedly disordered. Part of this disorder is the hostility to Christians generally and orthodox Christians specifically. But it extends far beyond that. And confronted with this, the temptation for a serious Christian is to react to the situation itself. But this is ultimately the wrong approach. St. Thomas tells us that law—and therefore politics—is an exercise of reason ordered to the common good (ST Ia IIae q.90 a.2 co. & ad 1). While there is certainly room for the application of discretion and judgment, consistent with the common good and the divine and natural law, in given circumstances, one must be careful not to jettison the conclusions of reason itself based upon those circumstances.

Dreher falls into just that trap. He observes correctly that the culture of the United States is bad, and he reacts to this situation by deciding that Christians should participate in politics only on limited terms. No. Dreher is right that the way out is by recovering the premodern tradition, but recovering the premodern tradition means understanding that political participation is natural to man.

Pentin, Cupich, and the dubia

Edward Pentin has a must-read article at the National Catholic Register about an exchange he had with Blase Cardinal Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, following Cupich’s formal elevation to the cardinalate. At a press conference at the North American College, Cupich, responding to a question from Pentin about the four cardinals’ dubia regarding Amoris laetitia, suggested that the controversial propositions had been passed by 2/3rds of the synod fathers at two synods. Not so fast, Pentin replies:

But defenders of the Dubia argue that Cardinal Cupich’s comment that the controversial propositions in question were “voted on by two-thirds of the bishops” is especially problematic.

It is often forgotten, they point out, that despite the strenuous efforts by the Synod secretariat and others to manipulate and jostle the synod fathers into accepting the most controversial propositions (allegations detailed in my book The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?), none of the three most controversial propositions managed to obtain a two-thirds majority during the first, Extraordinary Synod on the Family, in October 2014.  

One of them was a proposition relating to the “Kasper proposal” of admitting the divorced and remarried to holy Communion after a period of penitence. That failed to pass, and only a proposition calling for “careful reflection and respectful accompaniment” of remarried divorcees made it through.

Under such circumstances, they would normally therefore have been rejected.

In spite of this, the Pope controversially broke with custom, which he can do, and authoritatively insisted that all three rejected proposition be kept in the document, thereby enabling them to be carried over into the working document for the Ordinary Synod on the Family the following year.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) Read the whole thing there, especially Cardinal Cupich’s response to Pentin’s question.

We note with some interest that Cardinal Cupich hangs his red hat on the magisterial status of Amoris laetitia, suggesting that it has the same magisterial weight as any other post-synodal apostolic exhortation. To question the document would be to undermine all of the exhortations. Including—you guessed it—Familiaris consortio. This is, of course, the progressives’ favorite maneuver. Any document they don’t like—e.g., Familiaris consortio—is subject to renegotiation and discussion. As soon as they get a document they do like, however, it is a dogmatic pronouncement and cannot be questioned without undermining the very foundation of the Church. And when the pope who promulgated it called for reflection and discussion, as the Holy Father did with Amoris laetitia? Well, that’s not relevant. The important thing is that everyone get in line. And that’s precisely what Cardinal Cupich’s comments boil down to. The Pope has decided; deal with it. What accompaniment! What primacy of conscience!

We are reminded, also, of Professor Jessica Murdoch’s wonderful, indeed magisterial, analysis of Amoris laetitia, from a couple of months ago, in which she observed:

Given these difficulties, what is to be made of Cardinal Schönborn’s assertion that Amoris Laetitia is a binding document of magisterial authority? His analysis is unpersuasive, for three principal reasons. First, the document lacks language of formal definition. A clear example of language of formal definition appears in Ordinatio Sacradotalis, wherein Pope John Paul II uses words such as “We teach and declare” to define the Church’s teaching on the priesthood. Contrast this with the language of Amoris Laetitia highlighted by Cardinal Schönborn: “I urgently ask”; “It is no longer possible to say”; and “I have wanted to present to the entire Church.” Second, Amoris Laetitia lacks the theological and juridical precision of binding ecclesial documents, instead relying upon metaphors, imagery, and thick description, rather than clear statements. And third, if, in fact, the document does contradict either natural or divine positive law, then it simply cannot bind the faithful to the obsequium religiosum, that is, the assent of mind and will, specified by Church Lumen Gentium 25.

(Emphasis supplied.) Indeed, to our recollection, much of Amoris laetitia is simply the restatement of the final Relatio, with occasional remarks. It is interesting to consider what, exactly, the role of the supreme pontiff is supposed to be, especially in light of Our Lord’s mandate to St. Peter, if his merely repeating something, regardless of its orthodoxy, makes it quasi-dogmatic. Is the pope magic? But it is worth remembering that  the claims of the supporters of Amoris laetitia are not made in a vacuum. Thus, Cardinal Cupich not only is wrong when he claims that the problematic paragraphs of Amoris laetitia were approved by 2/3rds of the synod fathers at two synods, but he is also out on a spindly limb when he claims baldly that it is a magisterial document and that to question it would be to question all such documents.

The faithful needn’t overlook the fact that Amoris laetitia is an extraordinary document—and the Holy Father knows how to hand down ordinary documents when it pleases him to do so—when they consider these arguments.

 

Another (big) interview with Cardinal Burke

Edward Pentin has an explosive exclusive interview with Cardinal Burke about the dubia. This one is, in our view, hugely important, as it outlines what Cardinal Burke sees as a potential way forward for the dubia, especially if the Holy Father continues to decline to clarify the teachings in Chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia. In short, the Cardinal has raised the prospect of “a formal act of correction of a serious error” if the Holy Father does not clarify the teachings contained in Amoris laetitia.

To a certain extent, we think that this marks a bit of a change in tone from the initial release of the dubia. Recall what the prefatory letter said: “The Holy Father has decided not to respond. We have interpreted his sovereign decision as an invitation to continue the reflection and the discussion, calmly and with respect.” (Emphasis supplied.) In the new interview, Cardinal Burke says:

What happens if the Holy Father does not respond to your act of justice and charity and fails to give the clarification of the Church’s teaching that you hope to achieve?

Then we would have to address that situation. There is, in the Tradition of the Church, the practice of correction of the Roman Pontiff. It is something that is clearly quite rare. But if there is no response to these questions, then I would say that it would be a question of taking a formal act of correction of a serious error.

In a conflict between ecclesial authority and the Sacred Tradition of the Church, which one is binding on the believer and who has the authority to determine this?

What’s binding is the Tradition. Ecclesial authority exists only in service of the Tradition. I think of that passage of St. Paul in the [Letter to the] Galatians (1:8), that if “even an angel should preach unto you any Gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema.”

If the Pope were to teach grave error or heresy, which lawful authority can declare this and what would be the consequences? 

It is the duty in such cases, and historically it has happened, of cardinals and bishops to make clear that the Pope is teaching error and to ask him to correct it.

(Emphasis supplied and italics in original.) One wonders whether this is a conscious shift in tone, and, if so, what may have occasioned it.

In any event, read the whole interview at the Register.

Pentin on the reshuffle at CDW

At the National Catholic Register, Edward Pentin has some good analysis of the recent reshuffle at the Congregation for Divine Worship, and what the personnel changes will mean for the prefect, Robert Cardinal Sarah. Initial reports suggested that the Holy Father had cleaned house, ousted the members of the Congregation known to be liturgical traditionalists, and essentially moved the clock back to the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s. Pentin suggests that it might not be as bad as all that. Pentin observes:

Pope Francis made a major overhaul last week to the membership of the Vatican’s department for the liturgy, but his new appointments are not quite as sweeping as some had suggested, according to a full list of previous and new members obtained by the Register.

On Oct. 28, the Vatican announced the Holy Father had appointed 27 new members to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, many of whom come from a wide variety of nations to give the dicastery an international character.

However, although the Pope dismissed such prominent cardinals as Raymond Burke, Marc Ouellet and George Pell, he renewed the membership of nine others, including Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, a former secretary of the congregation under Benedict XVI; Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary; and Cardinal Peter Erdö, the former general rapporteur at the synod on the family.

Like those who have been replaced, these three renewed members are known to be “Ratzingerians,” closely aligned to Benedict XVI’s vision for the Church. (See below for full list of names.)

(Emphasis supplied.) Pentin informs us later that Cardinal Bagnasco of Genoa, a prelate likely seen as closer to Benedict’s style than Francis’s, has also been reappointed to the Congregation. Interestingly, the Holy Father has dismissed at least one of his own men; Cardinal Mamberti, appointed to replace Cardinal Burke as the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura and quickly elevated to the purple, for example, was dismissed. Pentin goes on to write:

The majority of the Pope’s new choices have a distinctly preferential approach to Blessed Paul VI’s Novus Ordo Missae, the “ordinary form” of the liturgy most widely used in the Latin Church today, as opposed to being adherents of the Mass in Latin or the Tridentine Mass of the 1962 Roman Missal, designated by Pope Benedict XVI as the “extraordinary form” of the liturgy in his 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, favors the approach encouraged by Benedict, the retention of a more traditional approach to the liturgy. He supports what is called a “Reform of the Reform,” meaning the implementation of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the way the Council Fathers intended.

[…]

Some have read these latest appointments as being made in opposition to Cardinal Sarah. However, the Vatican source said the cardinal “still holds all the cards”; and although he may feel isolated (his junior officials, appointed by Francis, are also firm adherents of the new Mass), the source said it’s unlikely any of the members would “bang their fists on the table” to demand change or Cardinal Sarah’s removal.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) Indeed, Pentin’s Vatican sources report that Cardinal Sarah, as prefect of the Congregation, will be firmly in charge of the Congregation’s agenda and day-to-day operations. When the Holy Father wants to reduce a prelate’s prominence, he knows how. For example, Cardinal Pell, once given sweeping financial powers, has found himself essentially a glorified auditor, with the balance of actual power shifting back to the Secretariat of State and APSA. And when the Holy Father wants to fire someone, he knows how. Ask Cardinal Burke. Perhaps Pentin has a point, then.

However, as an exercise in image and the politics of gestures, it is hard to say that the Holy Father has not made his preferences known. That is, by dismissing some prelates very clearly in line with Benedict’s project and appointing several very prominent liturgical progressives from the reign of John Paul II, it is clear (we think it is clear, at any rate) that the Holy Father has emphasized, however you want to characterize the emphasis, a very different liturgical direction than the one Cardinal Sarah had marked out.

The Holy Father pours cold water on women’s ordination?

Like many readers, we follow the Holy Father’s in-flight press conferences closely, since they appear to be, if not an action of his papal magisterium, then a means of communication close to his heart. Following the Holy Father’s recent trip to Sweden, he was asked a question about women’s ordination. You may recall that he recently established a commission to explore the historical aspects of deaconesses. While Benedict XVI’s Omnium in mentem severed in some way—or, more precisely, concretized finally a process of severing that began with Lumen gentium—the diaconate from the episcopate and the presbyterate, it has nevertheless been seen by many that the push for deaconesses is but the thin end of the wedge for women’s ordination into the presbyterate and episcopate. This is, obviously, one of the great dreams of progressives in the Church today. But the Holy Father appears to draw a bright line under St. John Paul II’s Ordinatio sacerdotalis, which teaches infallibly that women may not be ordained.

Here is Hannah Brockhaus’s coverage at the National Catholic Register:

During a press conference Tuesday aboard the papal plane from Sweden to Rome, Pope Francis said the issue of women priests has been clearly decided, while also clarifying the essential role of women in the Catholic Church.

“On the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the final word is clear, it was said by St. John Paul II and this remains,” Pope Francis told journalists Nov. 1.

The question concerning women priests in the Church was asked during the flight back to Rome after the Pope’s Oct. 31-Nov. 1 trip to Sweden to participate in a joint Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

(Emphasis supplied.) Brockhaus goes on to note that the Holy Father has been clear on this point previously, citing Ordinatio sacerdotalis repeatedly:

In a press conference returning from Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5, 2013, he answered the same question: “with reference to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says, ‘No.’ John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. That is closed, that door.”

He said that on the theology of woman he felt there was a “lack of a theological development,” which could be developed better. “You cannot be limited to the fact of being an altar server or the president of Caritas, the catechist … No! It must be more, but profoundly more, also mystically more.”

On his return flight from Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families Sept. 28, 2015, the Pope again said that women priests “cannot be done,” and reiterated that a theology of women needs to “move ahead.”

“Pope St. John Paul II after long, long intense discussions, long reflection said so clearly,” that female ordination is not possible, he said.

(Emphasis supplied.) However, it is unclear to us the extent that the Holy Father sees the question of deaconesses as inextricably tied up with the broader question of women’s ordination, which he apparently views as settled by Ordinatio sacerdotalis.

As we noted at the time, some members of the Holy Father’s deaconess commission are known to be advocates for the ordination of women at least to the diaconate. The argument of Phyllis Zagano, for example, is that while Ordinatio sacerdotalis (probably, she would say) settles the question of ordination to the presbyterate and, a fortiori, the episcopate, it does not settle the question of ordination to the diaconate. In other words, the question of deaconesses is not connected to the questions answered by Ordinatio sacerdotalis. Of course, such an argument likely creates disunities within Holy Orders and immediately serves to create two tiers of ordained ministers. Which is the next step in the argument from the advocates for women’s ordination, to be sure. At least, it has always been the argument.

So, while it is greatly cheering to hear the Holy Father reaffirm simply and directly the infallible pronouncement of John Paul II, we are left wondering what his overall picture of the situation is. Does he, like Zagano and her associates, think that Ordinatio sacerdotalis is limited to the episcopate and presbyterate? Or does he think that the diaconate is somehow off to one side? Certainly he would not err if he considered the diaconate somehow different. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council, St. John Paul, and Benedict each considered it as somehow separate from the episcopate and presbyterate. However, the extent of the difference is, we think, an open question.

 

John Podesta’s Catholic connections

The secret is out. As part of Wikileaks’ ongoing leak of the emails of John Podesta, a 2011 email exchange between Podesta and a fellow named Sandy Newman was released. Ordinarily, nothing could be less interesting than the shop talk of a couple of veteran Democratic operatives. However, this email exchange is interesting because it states—it doesn’t suggest, it states—that Podesta was involved in setting up Catholic organizations that, well, putting it charitably, advocate essentially for Democratic viewpoints within the Church. The exchange implies, in fact, that these groups have as a goal undermining the Church’s hierarchy and doctrine. As Podesta’s boss advances toward the White House, the exchange takes on new relevance. And it ultimately ought to give Catholics very serious pause when they evaluate organizations claiming to represent constituencies in the Church.

You can read the whole exchange at Wikileaks, but the thrust of it is this: Newman was complaining to Podesta about the perceived intransigence of the Catholic bishops on the Obamacare contraceptive mandate. Newman called for a “Catholic Spring,” a reference to “Arab Spring” and other similar movements, which conceivably would involve rank-and-file Catholics rising up and demanding that the Church change its infallible teaching regarding contraception. Podesta responded to Newman with something very interesting; he says, “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.” (Emphasis supplied.) A staff reporter from the Catholic Herald provides a very good overview, too, of the emails and the implications.

Podesta is, of course, a major figure in Democratic politics. Currently, he is a top official in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. But, before that, he was a player in Bill Clinton’s administration, finally becoming White House chief of staff toward the end of Clinton’s presidency. After that, he was a Democratic lobbyist and think-tank boss. But he remained in the Clintons’ orbit. And when Hillary Clinton announced her current—potentially successful—bid for the presidency, he came on board as the campaign’s chairman. In other words, John Podesta has been a very heavy hitter in Democratic circles for a very long time. And there is, therefore, every reason to believe that Podesta knows what the Democratic establishment has and has not done as far as establishing so-called astroturf (i.e., fake grassroots) organizations. We are not inclined to dismiss Podesta’s statement out of hand.

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which purports to be “[p]romoting Pope Francis’s politics of inclusion throughout the United States,” is led by Christopher Jolly Hale. It takes a range of positions, and generally tries to stake out a pro-life position within the Democratic Party. Catholics United, which does not appear to be a going concern at the moment, was the project of Chris Korzen and James Salt. Based upon publicly available information, it seems to have been largely an advocacy outreach by the Democratic Party to Catholics. For his part, Chris Hale has put out a predictably outraged statement, which reads in part:

When I woke up this morning, I never thought our organization would get caught up in WikiLeaks drama.

Prominent commentators have used a stolen e-mail from 2011 (while I was a 21-year-old college student) about our organization in an attempt to impugn both our integrity and our organization’s work.

So let’s set the record straight: every day, my colleagues and I work tirelessly to promote the social mission of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in American politics, media, and culture. 

Politics is messy. Lived faith is messy. So this work isn’t always easy. You’re bound to make everyone mad at least once.

(Italics in original; emphasis supplied.) It is, of course, ironic that Hale would claim the mantle of Pope Francis, who, while archbishop of Buenos Aires, was locked in more or less perpetual combat with the president of Argentina. But, for reasons well known to any reader of Semiduplex, the first thing progressive dissenters do when they want to enervate the Church’s teachings is wrap themselves in Francis’s mantum.

But back to the matter at hand. It may be worth noting that at no point in the press release does Hale actually deny Podesta’s statement that Catholics in Alliance was founded by Democratic operatives to advance a Democratic agenda inside the Church. He just claims that he was in college when Podesta wrote the email. This is, of course, a non sequitur. One has very little to do with the other. At any rate, as leader of the organization, Hale ought to know—the Catholic Herald was able to find out, any rate—that Catholics in Alliance was founded in 2005 by Tom Periello. (One assumes that Chris Hale was in high school or whatever then.) Currently its chairman is a man named Fred Rotondaro. The Catholic Herald reports that both Periello and Rotondaro are senior fellows in Podesta’s think tank. In other words, in addition to Podesta having some authority by virtue of his position in Democratic politics, solid reporting shows that Catholics in Alliance was founded by people very close to Podesta. To put it in legal terms, the circumstantial evidence corroborates very strongly Podesta’s statement.

For some reason, Hale neglects to mention this in his press release. Of course, if his best argument is that he was in college when Podesta’s close associates set up an organization Podesta claimed to have set up, we can understand why Hale wouldn’t want to talk about it. But no problem ever went away by ignoring it, and Hale most certainly has a problem.

And Hale’s problem is not limited to the founding of the group. He claims that Catholics in Alliance has no intention of dividing the Church against itself. However, that is not quite the same thing as saying that Catholics in Alliance does not seek to contradict the doctrine of the Church of Rome. In fact, whether Catholics in Alliance exists to undermine the doctrine of the Church is something you’ll have to judge for yourself, after reading the press clippings the group makes available so kindly on its website. Certainly Rotondaro himself, as the Catholic Herald reports, has taken positions in stark contrast to the Church’s, not only on contraception but also on women’s ordination (Hale, of course, is an enthusiastic supporter of deaconesses) and homosexual behavior. In this context, Hale says,

Many of our fellow Catholics disagree with some of our politics. And they should. That’s a sign of a healthy culture within the Church.

But I can say with strong conviction that we love our Catholic faith and the Church. Contrary to what others have said, my colleagues and I would never try to divide the Church against itself for political ends.

Judge us by our fruits. We’ve time and again challenged both Democrats and Republicans—often at some political cost—to be better stewards of the common good.

You can question our politics, but don’t ever question the sincerity of our faith or our love of the Catholic Church.

(Italics in original; emphasis supplied.) We agree with Hale, “The proof is in the pudding.” (Italics in original.)

Furthermore, we know, from other revelations, that other people in Podesta’s circle have not an enormous amount of use for the Church’s teachings. Addie Mena, a reporter for Catholic News Service, has reported on another of Podesta’s emails leaked by Wikileaks. In a 2011 email exchange, John Halpin and Jennifer Palmieri complained about conservative Catholics. Halpin is apparently a senior official at Podesta’s think tank. Palmieri is Hillary Clinton’s communications director. Halpin complained that conservative Catholics bastardized the faith and simply threw around Thomism and subsidiarity to appear clever. Palmieri attributed even less elevated motives to her coreligionists. At some level, it is not a surprise that these men and women are essentially progressive Catholics who are not hugely impressed with the Church’s traditional teachings. Just as the First Things crowd seeks a fusion between Catholics (and others) and the Republican Party, these people seek a fusion between Catholics and the Democratic Party. Of course, while a faithful Catholic has a passing hard time being a good Republican, a faithful Catholic simply cannot be a good Democrat.

One could assume that much. But what the Wikileaks releases indicate goes beyond mere contempt on the part of Democratic elites for the Church’s traditional teaching. It suggests that Democratic operatives have set up organizations in an attempt to bring the Church’s teaching in line with Democratic orthodoxy. These operatives are now in the circle of a woman who is, if the polls are to be believed, quite likely to be the next president of the United States. Do they intend to use these organizations to advocate for President Hillary Clinton’s policies? We already know that Clinton wants to advance the cause of abortion and contraception in the United States by repealing the life-saving Hyde Amendment. The bishops are sure to resist. Will White House employees use their connections with organizations like these, or any others that just happen to spring up, to urge Catholics to resist the Church’s teachings on these points. It is a frightening picture, to say the least. Bishop Richard Umbers, the auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia, and a prelate who understands social media, puts the matter succinctly in a tweet, calling the idea of a “Catholic Spring,” “[w]orrying signs of a desire for state interference in church creed & organisation.”

At the very least, Catholics now have good reason to be suspicious of advocacy groups that come along—claiming to represent “ordinary Catholics” or Pope Francis or any other constituency—who ultimately propound positions contrary to the settled teachings of the Church. Catholics are, of course, used to dissenters in our midst; indeed, the history of the Church since, oh, 1962 or so, has been one long process of dissent and reaction. But we have always assumed that progressives dissent simply because they do not actually like the Church all that much, and seek to make a church for themselves as doctrinally coherent and vibrant as the liberal Lutherans, the Anglicans, or the United Methodists. However, all of this suggests that some dissenters might have altogether more worldly motives.