In his Washington Post column today, E.J. Dionne (about whom I have written in these pages before, here and here) tries to pooh-pooh the eruption that ensued when WikiLeaks revealed emails sent back and forth by Clinton campaign personnel, including the Catholics John Podesta and Jennifer Palmieri. For the reaction of some faithful Catholics, see Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, Robby George, Helen Alvaré, and C.C. Pecknold. The transparent contempt for the teachings of the Church, and the intention of creating dissident “Catholic” organizations bent on defeating (and if possible, changing) those teachings, are impossible to miss.
Hence here comes Dionne, ready to testify on behalf of Podesta in particular. Here is the testimony:
I should say I’ve known Podesta for many years and often heard him speak with affection for the church. In response to this controversy, he told me in an email that as “a lifelong practicing Catholic, I take very seriously the social and moral teachings of the church.”
I will cast no doubt on the claim that Podesta has spoken with affection for the Church. I will not even question Podesta’s claim to being “a lifelong practicing Catholic.” (It’s more than I can claim.) But the last part of the quotation from Podesta’s email to Dionne can only be taken as evidence that he is a shameless liar.
“I take very seriously the social and moral teachings of the church.” Well, if “take very seriously” means conforming his politics to Church teaching, rather than his understanding of Church teaching to his politics, then this is patently false, and we do not need to peer into the soul of John Podesta to reach this conclusion. The social and moral teaching of the Church is categorically opposed to abortion. Podesta is for abortion, on demand, and its public financing (his candidate advocates disposing of the Hyde Amendment). The social and moral teaching of the Church insists that just laws recognize the truth about marriage, that it is a relation that can only subsist between one man and one woman. Podesta and the candidate for whom he works think same-sex marriage is not only a constitutional right but a morally sound policy to embody in the law.
And the Church teaches that the freedom of religion may not be infringed by government mandates that persons act contrary to what their consciences tell them about the truth of such things as the sanctity of life, the dignity of marriage, and the reality of sex as the basis of “gender.” But Podesta and his candidate want to force a religious order of Catholic women to cooperate in the provision of contraceptives and abortifacients; they want to compel small businesses to cater to same-sex marriage ceremonies; and they want physicians to refer troubled patients for “transgender” treatment—all against the Catholic understanding of the right to act on one’s conscience (in these cases, one’s rightly formed conscience).
I understand Dionne’s impulse to defend his friend. On most if not all of these issues, Dionne stands exactly where Podesta stands—preferring his politics to the contrary teaching of the faith he claims to love and profess. But it takes a special kind of nerve to caution conservatives about “the high costs of tying a church with a rich tradition of social teaching to the right end of politics,” when you are on board with efforts at the left end of politics to alter and thereby betray that tradition.
Matthew J. Franck is director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center for Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, professor emeritus of political science at Radford University, and visiting lecturer in politics at Princeton University.