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Steven K. Bannon speaking in Rome, September 22, 2018Photo courtesy of Edward Pentin

[Editor’s note: This interview first appeared on Edward Pentin’s website and is reprinted here with his kind permission.]  

President Donald Trump’s former strategic adviser predicts an “existential crisis of trust” in the Church will worsen, especially if Pope Francis fails to dialogue with those he considers to be his opponents.

Widely recognized as a pioneer of the “sovereigntist” movement which claimed a number of victories in the recent European Parliament elections, Bannon believes an absence of such dialogue will lead to growing disaffection in the pews, the Vatican becoming increasingly a “green” political party of the “far-left,” and a possible schism within the Church.

The media executive, political figure and former investment banker sees a need for nuance to overcome widespread polarisation, and proposes a major conference in Rome bringing together faithful from all sides to discuss a way forward. Dialogue, he says, “is the way we hold the Church together.” 

In this June 4 telephone interview, Bannon, who comes from “working-class Irish Catholic Democrats” in Virginia, also discusses the controversial China deal with the Vatican, why he wholeheartedly rejects accusations of being anti-Semitic and a fascist, and his project to create an academy to defend the Judeo-Christian West at a 13th century Cistercian monastery near Rome.

Edward Pentin: Mr. Bannon, judging by the recent European Parliament elections and other examples, the Holy Father seems clearly unwilling to engage with the “sovereigntist movement.” What, according to you, has been his approach exactly?

Steve Bannon: This has been going on for a while. To analyze it correctly I think you’ve got to bifurcate the Pope as the vicar of Christ on Earth, and the theological and dogma of the Church, versus the administrative side.

The Pope has been blatant since the very beginning. He made a distinct effort to sway the 2016 presidential election when he went to Mexico and celebrated Mass at the border. And what he said on the flight back was just incredible [the Pope said “a person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian”]. He’s never been really called out for that. I think by not having people stand up and say: “You crossed a boundary there,” it has just led to this continuation.

I think what’s most disturbing is that you have had these horrific, biblical, tragic situations in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Middle East and Central America, where people are being forced north because of economic conditions, but the burden of that is falling upon, or has fallen upon, working-class people in southern Europe, whether that is Greece, or in Italy, or in Hungary. And in the United States, around Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It’s crushed the social safety net, and it’s crushed the working-class people there.

Who is mostly responsible for this? 

It’s really the global elite. And what’s most disturbing is that the Pope is continually using the same language, and the same coded references, as the “party of Davos.” He’s essentially siding with the global elites here, not the poor, because he’s not talking about a solution. He continues to talk about open migration. He continues to talk about open borders. He’s essentially driving what would be a situation of anarchy.

Do you think he has become more strident in this regard in recent years?

From the 2016 presidential election to the 2019 European Parliamentary election, what’s most disturbing is that the Pope has thrown in hard with the globalists, the global elite, and the party of Davos. He now is in a situation where [he says] all the ailments of the world are because of the populist nationalist sovereignty movement and that is driving all the problems of the world. That is just categorically not true. It’s just categorically not true, and I think that he’s playing a very dangerous game here.

What crisis is the Church now facing, in your view?

The Church has an existential crisis, right now, of trust. Within this crisis, he has abjectly failed to deal with the administrative and financial problems of the Church. To be brutally direct, his current inaccurate statements on the McCarrick situation, his inaccurate statements about Chile, call into question his veracity. I don’t think he has the bandwidth right now to go and try to essentially confront politicians like [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orban, [Italian vice premier Matteo] Salvini, [Brexit Party leader Nigel] Farage, [President of France’s National Rally Party Marine] Le Pen, [US President Donald] Trump, [Indian President Narendra] Modi. He’s basically taken it upon himself to be the front man for the party of Davos, going against the sovereignty movement.

He is lying about his actions in dealing with the most existential crisis I think the Church has ever been in. This is going to rapidly lead, and I have said this consistently now for a year, towards an even bigger crisis. That crisis is now inextricably linked with this Pope. I have been his biggest supporter as far as the direct succession and not resigning when [Archbishop Carlo Maria] Viganò came out with the memo [his August 2018 testimony calling on Francis to resign for rehabilitating McCarrick]. I was the first conservative to say, when there was this braying for his resignation, “No.” I said: “He is the successor to Christ. He’s the vicar of Christ. There’s been a logical succession. You can’t do that. We can’t have guys resigning. We can’t have popes resigning.”

But the situation now is going to pick up momentum and is going to get worse, and he is fixated on issues like climate change and other issues. And concerning this issue of sovereignty, on which he continues to hammer the people, the little guys in the aisle — he is avoiding it, and/or misrepresenting what this is. The [Vatican abuse of minors] summit [of bishops in February] was a failure. The summit was a failure because he failed to say “zero tolerance.” He failed to say there was a failure of transparency. He failed to say total accountability, and he failed at getting civil authority to, basically, rectify this and rectify the legal situation. Listen, I think this is a huge problem and it’s metastasizing.

How so? 

I think there’s a crisis of government. Listen, people have to understand we’re living in historical times in the Church. We had the dubia presented a few years ago by some of the most accomplished theologians and experts in Church canon law, and he’s failed to respond to them. I believe it’s the first time a dubia has not been addressed, number one. That’s out there. That’s a marker. The dubia has not been addressed. He’s blown it off.

We had 19 [now over 80] of the most impressive theologians accuse him of the crime of heresy, and headed by [Dominican] Father Aidan Nichols, a man of global prominence. The letter listed not simply the crime of heresy. It listed, I think, associates that he had to stop associating with that were also a problem. He laughed that off. In fact, I think he said it amused him.

In the history of the Church, you have to go back. When has any of this happened before? At the same time, he’s now wandering into a crisis in the Church on paedophilia. To wit, in Dallas the other day, they’re serving warrants. They’re raiding Church properties. You hear that there’s a wave of grand juries that potentially are going to be publishing reports. This is sweeping through the United States 25 or 30 years after this crisis first took place, with no resolution. Let’s be brutally frank. You were there at the summit. It was a disaster.

I want to add one more thing: The world is looking at us and at the same time, we are cutting a secret deal with the Chinese Communist Party, the most virulently totalitarian surveillance state in the history of mankind. To wit, we just had an exhibit in Beijing of Vatican art, and we’ve had the [Vatican] Secretary of State saying he’s going to continue to work with them, and we’ve had [criticism from] Cardinal Zen. This is a crisis, and it’s brewing, and he refuses to back off [criticizing] the sovereignty movement.

How do you think the faithful should respond to this crisis?

I think people ought to understand that it is incumbent upon laypeople in the Church to get engaged with this now or we’re going to lose the Church that’s been bequeathed to us for 2,000 years. When you look at everything that’s going on, if you go back 20 years, from John Paul II to where we are today, theologians are issuing letters accusing a pontiff of heresy, canonical lawyers, the former head of the Church’s Supreme Court, is issuing a dubia that essentially calls him a heretic, there’s the crisis of the paedophilia situation and the lack of response to it, you see civil authorities in the United States, you see other issues now in Latin America, like Chile and other places. There’s a firestorm brewing in Latin America.

There’s widespread concern among Italians that the Vatican is becoming like a political party.

There’s absolutely no doubt. Listen, in the European Parliamentary elections, your readers, and particularly readers in the United States, should know he threw his hat in. He became politically active, and he is part of the global establishment, climate change, he’s a Green. He’s not even a center-leftist. It’s a political party that’s on the far left. It’s a political party that supports the Greens, which to me, is essentially a theological movement. It’s obvious. It’s pantheism, and the Church has thrown its lot in with it. All of his language absolutely is the Greens.

And this goes beyond Italy’s borders?

He is actively becoming a political party not just in Italy but this is across Europe. He was active in France. He’s definitely active in Italy because Italy, as I have said, and I was the first to say this, Italy is the center of politics in the world right now, because you have a populist party on the left and a nationalist party on the right that have formed a government. There’s a big article in I think it’s La Repubblica about me, where I’m just saying the government ought to try to stay together. I’ve been a big supporter of trying to make this work. Listen, we’re not naïve. The Church has always had a fundamentally big role in playing politics. Everybody knows that. This is something different, though. The Church has always had a very big and very large role in politics, as it has in the United States, but it’s been a different role. It’s been a cultural role.

How does this differ from the Church you remember in your youth? 

I come from working-class Irish Catholic Democrats, Kennedy Democrats. We were there as little kids walking the precinct here, and all the virulently anti-Catholic stuff they were throwing up at Kennedy. The Irish Catholic working class in particular was very strong. Now, with the life movement, it’s become politically right. It’s a big supporter of Trump, and split. Progressive Catholics are very big, but the life movement is one of the basic parts of the Trump movement.

So, [the Church] has always been engaged in politics. We’re not naïve. This is something different. It’s different in degree, and it’s different in kind. Here’s what’s interesting: There’s been a counter reaction. I have never seen an Italian politician, a major Italian politician, take on the symbols of the Church like Salvini, with the rosary, the Bible, and calling young people to a lived Christianity in defense of the Judeo-Christian West.

Why is the Pope joining up with the “far left,” as you say?

This should be brought up, that he is a Latin American Jesuit inculcated in liberation theology. Liberation theology is nothing more than cultural Marxism with a thin veneer of the Gospel of Matthew on top of it, right? It’s Jesus as social justice warrior. The cultural Marxism of the liberation theology movement and the cultural Marxism of the Greens is the linkage of the Pope’s political movement. It’s quite natural for him. He’s both a Peronist and a Jesuit at the same time.

How significant is it, this particular venture into politics by the Pope?

It is very important. I think it’s got to be debated. This is going to be the next hot topic. I’ve gone around Europe. I just spent months in Europe in the European Parliamentary elections. I have spent so much time in Italy. I’m back in the States. People are going to fight this. I don’t want to use the ‘S’ word, but I’m going to use it. I believe that we potentially could be heading to a schism. I don’t say that lightly. This has got all the underpinnings. You see the theology. You see people talking about dogma, and the Pope is not going to back off this, I don’t think.

Do you also think that a big part of the problem is polarization and a lack of nuance on all sides?

This is it. That’s why I’m saying we’re hurtling towards something that I think could be far deeper, because there’s no nuance here. You’re either on one side of this or the other. That’s the issue: that you either believe in the Westphalian nation-state and the underpinnings of a free citizenry, which is what the sovereignty movement is, or you believe the Church politically came to a resolution of this, from the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, and all that. That is a global organization religiously but not politically. What he has done is reverse this now. He’s thrown in. He’s a globalist. He’s a political globalist. He speaks with all the nomenclature of the globalists. He supports all the policies of the globalists.

What your audience in the United States has to understand, from the pulpit in Europe they are absolutely throwing down harder than politicians. There were more negative things said from Catholic pulpits by bishops, archbishops, and cardinals in Europe about this previous election than the centrist candidates on the center-left and center-right. They were kind of wishy-washy. The Church threw in with the anti-sovereignty movement. This is not going to end well.

But do you think the answer could be to inject more nuance, for the Church as well but everybody to say, for example, “Well, we don’t agree on the science of climate change, but we do need to do more to safeguard the environment”?

Here’s what I think we ought to do: What is the Pope’s number one thing he always talks about? Dialogue. Where’s the dialogue with the sovereignty movement? Where’s the dialogue with the populists? You want subtlety? Pope Francis, you turn around and say dialogue. You go everywhere throughout the world. You’re down in Abu Dhabi and you say we’ve got to dialogue with the Muslims. I’m for that, absolutely. But how about this? How about you dialogue with members of your flock who happen to be sovereigntists instead of demeaning them, instead of saying that they’re the problem? Remember, a huge part of the sovereignty movement is in the pews every Sunday. This is what he’s talking about. This is his Church.

In the United States, a huge part of the Trump movement is working-class Catholics. Salvini’s movement is made up of working-class Catholics. Throughout Europe, the working-class Catholics are a big part of Marion Marechal and Le Pen’s movement. These are working-class Catholics. Alternative for Deutschland, working-class Catholics. The Pope wants to dialogue with everybody except his flock.

Including traditionalists, and those who are perceived to be on the right?

Listen, there should be another Vatican Council, but if the Pope believes in dialogue, there should be dialogue. If you want subtlety and you want rapprochement, we should immediately convene a conference. It should start with regional conferences that lead up to one in Rome. It should be a dialogue with the traditionalists and a dialogue with the sovereigntists, and by the way, with the Greens and everything like that. That’s the way we hold the Church together. If you don’t do this, we’re heading towards a split. As night follows day it’s going to happen, because it’s getting more intense. The intensity is picking up.

If people don’t feel listened to, then they will break away?

Yeah, 100%.

People find it bizarre that the Holy Father speaks to everyone but those who uphold the Church’s teaching, who are orthodox.

I don’t think it’s bizarre at all. I think the apparatus of the Church is in control, is controlled now by a group that comes out of liberation theology. People should understand it was dismissed in the great centers of learning in Paris and in Germany back in the 1960s as being not a serious thing. It took root in Latin America and with the Jesuits. People have got to start calling it what it is. The Church is now inculcated at the highest levels with cultural Marxism of the liberation theology movement, and everything it does. The Frankfurt School is now in Rome, right? It’s in Rome. Everything that they do, it’s Gramsci. It’s culture uprooted from politics. This is the hegemony.

One thing I will tell you, I know all the traditionalists and I know all the sovereignty movement members, etc. are not going to back down. They believe this in the marrow of their bones, of the Church that’s been bequeathed to them, and also the underpinnings of the Westphalian system: that the nation-state directly comports to Catholic teaching on subsidiarity, that the citizen is empowered. It is those two intellectual constructs that merge in this, and I think they’re prepared to engage, but they are not prepared to retreat.

But what can be done practically speaking, if the Vatican and the others just don’t want to listen to all sides, how can this be resolved? 

I don’t know if it can be resolved, but I’m prepared to listen. First off, what people should know is that it has to be [up to] the laity. I say this wearing my investment banker hat, and someone who’s worked in restructurings and bankruptcies, and seeing organizations that collapse. The financial and administrative side of the Church is currently run by the clergy who are incapable of solving this crisis. The laity is going to have to get more and more engaged.

That is just to say that the administrative, financial, and material. Leave the moral questions aside, which are so horrific. I’m just trying to be practical. If you don’t get engaged in that, we’re talking about a radically different Church in 10-20 years. I don’t think people understand the depths of what this could lead to. Remember, this has been bequeathed to us for thousands of years. This is really the hard work of all those little people, the little guy in the pew, the men and women who sacrificed for the Church, and all of that could all be wiped out in a decade.

But even then, what can the laity do? What power does the laity have?

First off, number one, I think you’ve got to cut off the money. The donors have to cut off. If they won’t listen, if you don’t have these committees that are trying to engage, then they will listen to one thing, and that is if you cut off the money. That means you directly give to the building or whatever is in your parish to make sure that your parish continues to thrive, but you cut off any giving that would go to a diocese and back to Rome.

I hate to say it, you have the leverage point. I do this for a living. The laity has tremendous leverage in this situation. The number one leverage the guy in the pew has is stop giving money. As soon as you cut off the cash, you will force them to listen.

And make it conditional that the abuse crisis is properly addressed?

I don’t even think we’ve even started the process. I think you’ll see a lot more [abuse cases] in Latin America, I think in Cuba, I think in sub-Saharan Africa, and in south Asia, and Europe. I think we’re at the very beginning of addressing this crisis in the Church on the pedophilia crisis. I don’t believe the spin that it’s all behind us. It’s not all behind us, and it’s got to be addressed, and it has got to be addressed now. I just think it’s a tragedy, but it’s a bigger tragedy if you just don’t do anything about it.

The Vatican made a controversial secret agreement signed last September with China on the appointment of bishops, one which many Chinese Catholics felt was a betrayal of their loyalty to Rome. Given your long experience and wide knowledge of China, what do you say to Cardinal Parolin’s view that this is just the beginning, we have to give it time, and the Chinese government will come around to respecting religious freedom? 

He’s absolutely dead wrong. He is absolutely wrong on every level. Look at Tiananmen. We’ve just commemorated the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen. All the wishful thinking that got us here is the wishful thinking from the late ’90s and early 2000s about trade, about Most Favored Nation, that as they get wealthy, they’ll get more liberal. All the evidence shows the exact opposite. In fact, let’s look at the activity that they’ve done since we signed this.

They’ve demolished churches. More people are intimidated. They’re trying to hunt down bishops. Cardinal [Joseph] Zen is one of the most holiest men in the world. He has been adamant about this. I say this as an authority in China, I am leading the effort in the United States and throughout the world about confrontation with this radical cadre. This is not about the Chinese people. The Chinese people are the ones who are being suppressed.

What are the wider consequences of this agreement do you think?

What the Church has done is made a pact with the devil. Actually, they’re hurting the Chinese people. The Chinese people hate this deal. The Chinese people, secular people, are saying, “What is the Church doing? Why is the Church giving legitimacy to a totalitarian surveillance state?” How can you sit there when you see the Uyghurs, the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong, the underground evangelical church, and then you who represent the underground Catholic Church throw them under the bus? How can you even do that in light of what’s happening with the other religious beliefs?

People should note, it was after we signed this and announced it that the Chinese went to the Dalai Lama on sinicisation, which is a phrase Parolin uses all the time. He uses their phrase. They went to the Dalai Lama and said, because of sinicisation, Beijing has to approve the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama for the first time. These things are all interconnected, and the Pope and Parolin are engaging in dangerously naïve thinking.

Here’s what they’re doing: They’ve jeopardized the lives of living saints, the living saints of the underground Catholic Church. They’re putting all religious believers in jeopardy by giving a false cover to a murderous regime. The radical nature of the CCP is coming forward every day as they’re confronted in this economic war with the West. Now, the one proponent they’ve got on the world stage is the Catholic Church and the Vatican? This is outrageous.

The agreement remains secret.

This is the other thing that’s outrageous. At the [February abuse] summit, it was all about transparency and accountability, and they [the Vatican] are now opening the Secret Archives of Pius XII to see what arrangements were made with fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. In this context, how can we possibly be in a situation to sign a deal with Beijing that’s secret? Here’s why it’s secret. I’m calling out Parolin on this. Everybody knows why it’s secret: because it contains secret codicils on full diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Beijing.

How does that work exactly? 

It will essentially throw Hong Kong and Taiwan under the bus. Look what’s happening in Hong Kong: On June 9 they had a massive rally against the extradition treaty. The Hong Kong deal, they’ve torn up. The one country—two systems is gone. They’re imposing now an extradition law so they can essentially snatch free citizens from Hong Kong and put them in prisons in China. That’s being protested in the streets. Joshua Wong was just sentenced for five more weeks, a brave young man. He notified people he’s got five more weeks in jail, so he would not be there for the rally. They’ve given him five more weeks in jail, one of the bravest young men in the world.

So no, please show me the evidence, any evidence that they are liberalizing. This deal is because of this Pope, and this is because of McCarrick … It was McCarrick who made this deal. All I say is look at Cardinal Zen, one of the most respected individuals in all Asia, not just among Catholics, he’s considered by every person I know in Asia as a good and holy man. Look at Zen he’s the biggest advocate of getting rid of this thing. I tell you, I am so focused on having this deal quashed, because I spend 50% of my time on this Chinese situation because of my deep affinity and love for the Chinese people

Why do so many people throw the fascist label at you, and the anti-Semitic label, xenophobia, and so on. Why don’t you perhaps come back more strongly against that?

Because it’s about your actions. Obviously, they smear because they’re afraid of the message that I support and I bring. Along with [Trump’s Jewish son-in-law] Jared [Kushner], we were the ones that pushed against the American government to have the Riyadh conference, to bring all the Muslim nations together, to work together to stop radical Islamic jihad. With Breitbart, I was the leading voice on stopping the BDS movement and the suppression of this crisis of the Jews in Europe, which is horrific. In Berlin, I just met with a Jewish organization was the first to start telling people how, under Merkel’s government, they can’t wear the yarmulkes in Berlin because they’re afraid. My record on Jewish matters is unimpeachable.

What about the fascist label?

It’s the same thing. They’re going to call everybody fascists. Remember, when I said, “One of the tenets of us is the deconstruction of the administrative state.” We’re actually the anti-fascists. Remember, fascism worships the state. We don’t worship the state. We think you need a strong nation, and you need a strong state apparatus to support what you’re doing, but it can’t be overwhelming. In fact, here, deconstruction of the administrative state is one of our guides. That’s what separates us populists — right-wing and left-wing populists. We don’t believe in an overwhelming state. The fascists worship the state. The fascists want it to be in every part of your life. We argue the exact opposite. I want Church life to be Church life. People should have their own spiritual lives. They shouldn’t be guided by the state in this regard, right?

That’s one of my concerns with the Pope. He is now so engaged in the anti-sovereignty movement, but the fascist underpinnings are really in the Green movement. That’s because they want to take all forces of government and all forces of society, and combat what they think is an apocalyptic climate change. They’ve actually given a date of 10, 12, 11 years, or whatever it is. The Green movement is quite radicalized. They want to bring all forces of government into it. That, to me, is the underpinnings of fascism.

What is the best way to counter that?

I’ve said the exact opposite. In Italy, specifically, I have said you have to start to take apart this bureaucracy. It’s too all-encompassing in people’s lives. State capitalism, as you have in China, combined with big government leads you to fascism. I’m for the entrepreneur. I’m for breaking it up. Every one of my actions is the “anti” of this.

What they want to do is smear you. But here’s the great thing: I am not about to back off. I’m just a tough, ornery Irishman. I was taught at a very early age, if you want something, you’ve got to fight for it. I’m fighting for this. I’m not backing off one iota.

If Bannon’s a fascist, why would he be the guy who went to Milan, sat down with Salvini, and said, “Don’t do a deal with Berlusconi. Do a deal with [Luigi] Di Maio [of Italy’s leftist Five Star Movement]. Bring in and parley with this young, vibrant Five Star Movement that’s populist, that is anti-crony capitalist, that wants to throw the bums out.” On the front pages of the Italian papers today, I argue, “Don’t let this coalition fail. It’s not perfect. You’ve got to focus on the economy. You have made yourself the center of politics because you have a new politics that’s beyond left and right.” Would a fascist do that? No, a fascist would not do that. A fascist would say, “Get rid of the Five Star Movement.” I’m saying the exact opposite.

By the way, as you know, I don’t see eye-to-eye with the Five Star guys on everything, such as with the culture minister. They’ve got some cultural Marxists, but that’s okay. That’s what a free government, that’s what democracy, is about. It’s not perfect. You can have arguments, and things are going to happen, but that’s okay. When they snap at you, you know what they’re afraid of? They’re afraid that people can come together, that the populists on the left and the nationalists on the right can work together for this sovereignty movement, for the good of their country. That scares them. The [elites] just had all their power taken away in Brussels since the last election, and now they’re going to fight.

If you get your feelings hurt by having names called at you, then you’re in the wrong line of work. They’re going to say the worst things. If you want to have a humbling experience, just read my Twitter feed every day!

Regarding the monastery at Trisulti that you’re wanting to turn into an academy to defend the Judaeo-Christians West, what are you going to do to fight a recent threat by the Italian government to withdraw the lease? 

They started a process. It’s fine. All the papers are correct. We’ve done everything exactly like they laid out. Benjamin Harnwell [founder of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute in charge of the monastery] is a very thorough, systematic guy. We’re going to fight this, but here’s what your readers should know. The Academy of the Judeo-Christian West is an entity today. We’re going to do it, and we’re going to start training people. That is going to happen. Now, I’m going to fight to the death to make sure it happens at Trisulti because it happens to be a perfect place for it, but if we have to be in Rome or anywhere, it’s not going away.

Here’s what I love so much about the Academy and about Trisulti: As much as I trigger the left and the cultural Marxists, whether it’s the politics in Europe, China, whether it’s Trump, your audience should understand that nothing has triggered them like the Trisulti academy. Why is that? Because they fear a situation where people have been trained in the underlying tenets of the Judeo-Christian West, and they’re taught how to bring that into modern secular life. They fear that more than anything, and they will go to any extreme to destroy it. Well, it’s not going to be destroyed. It’s a living thing, and we’re going to make sure that we continue to nurture it.