The Trump campaign called Wednesday for Hillary Clinton to fire top advisers over emails, published by WikiLeaks, that appeared to mock politically conservative Catholics and push for a “Catholic Spring” from within.
Jennifer Palmieri, now the Clinton campaign’s director of communications, said in a 2011 email exchange that some politically conservative Catholics "think [Catholicism] is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn't understand if they became evangelicals."
Palmieri was responding to a message from John Halpin, a fellow at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. Halpin remarked on a magazine article that discussed how both 21st Century Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch and "Robert Thompson, managing editor of the [Wall Street Journal], are raising their kids Catholic."
"Friggin' Murdoch baptized his kids in Jordan where John the Baptist baptized Jesus," Halpin said, before dismissing Catholic beliefs on gender as “backwards.”
"It's an amazing bastardization of the faith," Halpin added. "They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy."
The exchange was included in a batch of hacked emails purportedly from Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta's account that were posted by WikiLeaks. Podesta was copied on the exchange between Palmieri and Halpin, but did not comment.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., described the comments as "staggering."
"To disparage the Catholic Church as ‘severely backwards’ is an insult to millions of people across the nation," Ryan, who is Catholic, said in a statement. "If anything, these statements reveal the Clinton campaign's hostile attitude toward people of faith in general.
"All Americans of faith should take a long, hard look at this and decide if these are the values we want to be represented in our next president," Ryan added. "If Hillary Clinton continues to employ people with biased and bigoted views, it's clear where her priorities lie."
Trump Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway blasted the remarks in a conference call Wednesday, saying they show the campaign’s disdain for Catholics.
“For 30 years Hillary Clinton has been openly hostile to practicing Catholics,” she said, citing Clinton’s support of partial birth abortion and the ObamaCare contraception mandate. “Now her staff is caught calling Catholics ‘backwards’ in emails seething with disdain.”
Conway called for Clinton to fire those on her staff who have expressed anti-Catholic sentiments.
“Everyone involved should be ashamed. The hostility to religious liberty and disdain for Catholics should not go unpunished,” she said. “We call on Hillary Clinton to apologize and fire the staff involved in this anti-Catholic bigotry.”
Trump, who himself was involved in a feud with Pope Francis over his immigration policies in February, also commented on the emails to a Florida crowd, saying they show members of Clinton team “viciously attacking Catholics and evangelicals.”
Latest faux controversy out of @Wikileaks hack: Accusing Jen Palmieri, who is Catholic, of being anti-Catholic.— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) October 12, 2016
“It won’t be tolerated by the voters,” he added.
Palmieri responded to the controversy by noting that she is Catholic and telling reporters, “The Russians orchestrated this hack.”
Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon dismissed what he called the “faux controversy,” also citing Palmieri's faith.
In a separate 2012 exchange, Podesta was involved in a conversation in which he appears to approve of the idea of fomenting a so-called “Catholic spring.”
In an email to Podesta, Sandy Newman of the liberal nonprofit Voices for Progress says 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.”
“I have not thought at all about how one would 'plant the seeds of the revolution,' or who would plant them,” he muses.
Podesta tells him they are creating groups to work for such a goal:
“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. Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up,” he says.
Angela Flood, a member of Trump’s Catholic Advisory Group and former spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, said that the email showed an attempt to undermine the Catholic faith.
“Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and other organizations are financed by George Soros and have goals inconsistent with Catholic thinking,” she said during the conference call, in response to a question from FoxNews.com. “They see this as an opportunity to infiltrate the Church and cause chaos and confusion. It is an attempt to undermine the faith.”
Rupert Murdoch is currently the executive chairman of Fox News, which includes FoxNews.com.