Steve Bannon v. Pope Francis: Here’s how the Trump ally and former Breitbart exec is trying to push the Catholic Church to the far right
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the 82-year-old Buenos Aires native best known as Pope Francis, has been the most liberal pope in the history of the Catholic Church. There are some areas in which Francis remains socially conservative: he is adamantly anti-abortion, opposes divorce and favors vows of celibacy for priests and nuns. Yet when it comes to warning about wealth inequality, President Donald Trump’s immigration policy or the threat of climate change, he sounds a lot like Sen. Bernie Sanders. Francis has his share of right-wing critics: one of them is Steve Bannon, who is trying to position himself as a leader of the anti-Francis movement and help push the Catholic Church to the far right.
Bannon, now 65, is no longer part of President Donald Trump’s administration or executive chairman of Breitbart News. But Bannon (who served as White House chief strategist in 2017) remains an aggressive supporter of Trumpism, which he sees as being at odds with Francis’ approach to Catholicism. And in 2019, Bannon has accused Francis of mishandling the sex abuse scandals that have plagued the Catholic Church and argued that by doing so, Francis is promoting a “financial crisis” for the Church.
Bannon recently asserted, “The Catholic Church is heading to a financial crisis that will lead to a bankruptcy. It could actually bring down not the theology, not the teachings, not the community of the Catholic Church, but the physical and financial apparatus of this church.”
The former Breitbart News executive, NBC News reports, has been spending a lot of time in Rome—and is spending roughly $1 million of his own money to lease and restore an 800-year-old monastery, where he plans to build an apartment for himself and live part of the year. NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel reported that Bannon envisions the monastery as a “monastery of Bannonism.”
Engel stressed that “the same movement, the same tactics that were used to push President Trump into the White House are now being used against Pope Francis.” And John Carr, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, told NBC News that the right-wing anti-Francis movement has set out to “weaponize the abuse crisis to try and undermine (the pope’s) authority, his leadership and the affection that people have for this pope.”
Bannon has joined forces with Cardinal Raymond Burke, a right-wing Francis opponent who is known for his anti-gay views and has called for Francis’ resignation. Burke has blamed “the plague of the homosexual agenda” for the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis.
Italy isn’t the only European country that Bannon has visited. He has also been a vocal supporter of far-right Europeans such as Marine Le Pen (the National Front candidate who lost to President Emmanuel Macron in France’s 2017 presidential election) and Hungarian President Viktor Orban. Le Pen, however, distanced herself from Bannon in 2018, declaring that only Europeans can save Europe.
Father James Martin, an editor at large for America Magazine, told NBC News that the anti-Francis movement Bannon and others are championing “is pretty big,” has “a lot of money” and “is worldwide now.” The priest said of the movement, “It’s kind of shocking: they don’t like LGBT people. They don’t like people of color. They don’t seem to like the poor very much either even though Jesus spent most of the time with them in the Gospel. And they really don’t like Pope Francis.”