The Clinton campaign declined to comment Wednesday on the contents of the 2011 emails in question, instead linking to a tweet from Clinton’s press secretary Brian Fallon.
Trump’s running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence decried the emails in remarks at Liberty University on Wednesday morning. He said that Clinton should denounce the “bigoted remarks” and apologize to people of faith. Trump also noted the emails while he campaigned in Florida, saying it showed Clinton aides attacked Catholics and evangelicals viciously. On a Wednesday conference call with reporters, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway called on Clinton to “fire the staff who have engaged in this vicious anti-Catholic bigotry.”
Another email that was released appears to suggest that Clinton’s campaign set up Catholic groups to organize on issues such as contraception. Sandy Newman, president of Voices for Progress, wrote in an 2011 email to Podesta that there needs to be “a Catholic Spring,” referring to the “Arab Spring,” a wave of demonstrations and protests in the Arab world.
“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,” Newman wrote.
“Is contraceptive coverage [in health care] an issue around which that could happen,” he asked.
He noted the controversy with the bishops opposing contraceptive coverage, citing claims that 98 percent of Catholic women have used contraception (that percentage has been questioned, however).
“Of course, this idea may just reveal my total lack of understanding of the Catholic church, the economic power it can bring to bear against nuns and priests who count on it for their maintenance, etc.,” he wrote. “Even if the idea isn’t crazy, I don’t qualify to be involved and I have not thought at all about how one would ‘plant the seeds of the revolution,’ or who would plant them.”
Podesta responded that the campaign had created the groups Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United “to organize for a moment like this.” Leaders from those two groups did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
“Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up,” Podesta wrote.
Kurtz, president of the Catholic bishops’ conference, noted reports “that some may have sought to interfere with the life of the Church for short-term political gain. If true, this is troubling both for the well-being of faith communities and the good of our country.”
Raymond Arroyo, lead anchor and managing editor of EWTN, the global Catholic network, said the emails have the potential to tip the balance for people who were still undecided. “If you have people on the fences, it is irritating,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo said that the emails describing the “Catholic Spring” will especially rub Catholics the wrong way.
“It makes it seem like you’re creating organizations to change the core beliefs of the church,” he said. “For someone to come and say, ‘I have a political organization to change your church to complete my political agenda or advance my agenda,’ I don’t know how anybody could embrace that.”
Earlier in the summer, internal Democratic National Committee emails were published publicly that appeared to show officials discussing using Sen. Bernie Sanders’s faith against him with voters, with one saying “my Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.” Those emails were also published by WikiLeaks.
Past polls have suggested Trump could have a problem among Catholics, many of whom have shifted from voting Republican to Democrat this election cycle. While they once voted primarily with the Democratic Party, they have become divided in recent years, with many voting Republican because of issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. This time around, they are an important swing vote in such states as Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
Sean Sullivan and Abby Phillip contributed to this report.