Friday, February 10, 2017

Steve Bannon's Thick Ties to Cardinal Raymond Burke and Trumpist Catholicism: Recent Commentary

Since last October, When the BuzzFeed site provided a transcript of Steve Bannon's statements to a Vatican conference organized in 2014 by the Human Dignity Institute (the comments are captured in a YouTube video) we've known that Bannon's white ethnonationalist ideology links to white supremacist groups globally who want a bloody "holy war" against Islam in the name of Christendom. Bannon told the Vatican conference,

[W]e're at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that's starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years. . . . 
I know we've talked about secularization for a long time, but if you look at younger people, especially millennials under 30, the overwhelming drive of popular culture is to absolutely secularize this rising iteration. 
Now that call converges with something we have to face, and it's a very unpleasant topic, but we are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it.

What was not so clear when the BuzzFeed transcript broke as Internet news was that Bannon has thick ties, too, to Vatican insiders including to the leading right-wing American prelate Cardinal Raymond Burke — which explains why he was invited to address the Vatican conference in the first place. This week, Jason Horowitz published a report in the New York Times exploring those thick ties. The report is garnering quite a bit of news coverage and commentary, and I'm posting now to point interested readers to that commentary.

Here are some excerpts from Horowitz's report:

When Stephen K. Bannon was still heading Breitbart News, he went to the Vatican to cover the canonization of John Paul II and make some friends. High on his list of people to meet was an archconservative American cardinal, Raymond Burke, who had openly clashed with Pope Francis
In one of the cardinal's antechambers, amid religious statues and book-lined walls, Cardinal Burke and Mr. Bannon — who is now President Trump's anti-establishment eminence — bonded over their shared worldview. They saw Islam as threatening to overrun a prostrate West weakened by the erosion of traditional Christian values, and viewed themselves as unjustly ostracized by out-of-touch political elites. . . . 
While Mr. Trump, a twice-divorced president who has boasted of groping women, may seem an unlikely ally of traditionalists in the Vatican, many of them regard his election and the ascendance of Mr. Bannon as potentially game-changing breakthroughs. 
Just as Mr. Bannon has connected with far-right parties threatening to topple governments throughout Western Europe, he has also made common cause with elements in the Roman Catholic Church who oppose the direction Francis is taking them. Many share Mr. Bannon's suspicion of Pope Francis as a dangerously misguided, and probably socialist, pontiff.


Cardinal Burke — who has said that the pope's exhortation, which opened the door for divorced Catholics remarried outside the church to receive communion, might require "a formal act of correction" — has been unusually outspoken in his criticism of Francis. Cardinal Burke and Mr. Bannon declined to comment for this article. 
Just weeks ago, the pope stripped Cardinal Burke of his remaining institutional influence after a scandal exploded at the Knights of Malta, a nearly 1,000-year-old chivalrous order where he had been exiled as a liaison to the Vatican. The pope had removed the order's grand master after he showed disobedience to the pope. There was a sense in the order that the grand master followed the lead of Cardinal Burke because he projected authority, a power that stemmed in part from his support by the Trump administration, one influential knight said. 
Cardinal Burke has become a champion to conservatives in the United States. Under Mr. Bannon, Breitbart News urged its Rome correspondent to write sympathetically about him. And at a meeting before last month's anti-abortion March for Life rally in Washington, Cardinal Burke received the Law of Life Achievement, or Nail award, a framed replica of the nail used to hold the feet of Christ to the cross. According to John-Henry Westen, the editor of Life Site News, who announced the award, the prize is awarded to Christians "who have received a stab in the back."

As Horowitz explains, the man who invited Bannon to address the Human Dignity conference at the Vatican in 2014 is Benjamin Harnwell, who founded Human Dignity. And who is a confidant of Cardinal Burke and arranged Bannon's meeting with Burke in 2014 . . . . Bannon met with Burke a few months before addressing the Human Dignity Conference.

Here's Sylvia Poggioli commenting on behalf of NPR on Horowitz's story:

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is known to have cultivated ties with far-right parties in Europe, like the National Front in France. He also seems to have forged an alliance with Vatican hard-liners who oppose Pope Francis' less rigid approach to church doctrine. The New York Times reported this week on Bannon's connections at the Vatican.
Before becoming White House chief strategist, Bannon — who is Catholic — was the executive chairman of Breitbart News, which he called a "platform for the alt-right." 
That's a movement associated with white nationalism. 
During a visit to Rome a few years ago, Bannon struck up a friendship with the American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a traditionalist who has emerged as one of Pope Francis' most vocal critics. 
Bannon hired Thomas Williams, an American former priest, as Breitbart's Rome correspondent. Williams belonged to the conservative Legion of Christ, which was roiled by scandal when it was revealed its founder had been a pedophile. 
Williams recently told his own story on an Italian TV talk show: In 2003, he fathered a child, but he kept it secret until he was outed by a news report. He then left the priesthood and married the child's mother — who is the daughter of the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon.

Horowitz also notes Bannon's close ties to Mary Ann Glendon's son-in-law Thomas Williams. What neither mentions, but which deserves attention, I think, is that Glendon has been a fierce defender of the reputation of Marcial Maciel, who founded the Legion of Christ to which Williams belonged as a priest, and who, it's proven, sexually molested Legionary seminarians for years, have fathered children by several women he supported secretly by Legion funds, and was a serious drug addict. Even after other Maciel defenders finally admitted that the evidence for all of this is beyond conclusive, Glendon has — to my knowledge, at least — never retracted her defense of Maciel.

More commentary riffing on the New York Times story: here's Charles Pierce for Esquire:

If it wasn't clear already, it should be now. Stephen Bannon, the last descendant of House Harkonnen, is not someone who wants to "disrupt the elites," or whatever techie garbage he likes to toss around. He wants to establish himself at the head of a new, worldwide authoritarian elite that will reach into every institution and that will demolish any of those institutions that stand in the way of what he wants. The man is a political thug, and Burke is a theological thug. Marriage made somewhat lower than heaven. 
This isn't just a matter of the cafeteria having a few new and unfamiliar faces in the buffet line. This is dragging elements of the Church into alliances with white supremacists all over the world, lining up parts of the Church with the likes of Marine Le Pen in France. This is entering into an alliance with forces so completely contrary to the Church's stated mission that they might as well give Cardinal Burke an army and let him march against the Languedoc.

And here's E.J. Dionne in Washington Post

Trump won overwhelmingly among conservative American Catholics last year, and many of them likely sympathize with aspects of Bannon's nationalist outlook. But the tensions between Trump and Francis are likely to grow. Ironically, given the opposition to him among many American bishops, Obama's foreign policy was far closer to the Vatican’s approach than is Trump’s.

For further commentary, see Travis Getty and John Lowe.

As Massimo Faggioli has noted, the "neo-Americanist Catholicism" represented by Burke and Bannon and their cronies "is based on a very selective list of Church teachings. It usually excludes what is at the heart of the papal advocacy for human rights and religious freedom, namely Pacem in Terris":

Pacem in Terris is at the basis of the documents of Vatican II, which focused on the dignity of the human person against racism, nationalism, and religious and social discrimination.

Trumpist Catholicsism, the neo-Americanist Catholicism of Burke and Bannon, prefers to concentrate, instead, on the fictive threat to Christian "religious freedom" represented by the movements for LGBTQ rights and women's rights. It prefers to speak as if Christian identity is bound up with the obligation to attack LGBTQ human beings and put women into their place — not with standing against racism, nationalism, and religious and social discrimination.

It prefers to imagine that Christian identity is melded together with ruthless global capitalist elites, and that the long tradition of Catholic social teaching is negligible, unimportant, something easily dismissed, as "true" Catholics ardently defend "morality" and decry the decay of "moral values" in the world today. The real beef with Pope Francis on the part of many American bishops is that they perceive him — whether rightly or wrongly — as someone once again giving a high profile to that social teaching, while he does not constantly beat the drum of pelvic moral issues.

Under such episcopal leadership, sixty percent of white Catholics were led to vote for Donald Trump, helping to set into motion a nightmare for the whole world. But one very much to the linking, it seems, of Messrs. Bannon and Burke . . . .

I am not certain of the origin of the photo at the head of the posting. I find it at various online sites, with no indicator (that I can spot) of its author or origins. If anyone has that information, I'd be grateful for it. Later: see Chris Morley's comment below, indicating that the photo is by Joshua Clark.

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