Political far right campaigner says Pope Francis is the enemy

Political far right campaigner Steve Bannon, who is Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, has attacked Pope Francis over his anti-populism stance.

Ramping up his message ahead of the European elections, Bannon said Francis should stay out of politics.

“He’s the administrator of the church, and he’s also a politician. This is the problem,” Bannon – who lives in Italy – said.

“He’s constantly putting all the faults in the world on the populist nationalist movement.”

The Pope’s remarks about social justice have long irked Bannon and those of his ideological mindset.

Swing back to April 2016, when Bannon suggested Matteo Salvini should start openly targeting Francis about migration, because Francis has made the plight of refugees a cornerstone of his papacy. (At that time, Salvini was the minister for the interior and the leader of Italy’s anti-immigration League party.)

“Bannon advised [Salvini] … the pope is a sort of enemy. He suggested for sure to attack, frontally,” a senior League insider says.

Salvini became more outspoken against the pope, claiming conservatives in the Vatican were on his side.

As an example, on 6 May 2016, after the pope’s plea for compassion towards migrants, Salvini said: “Uncontrolled immigration, an organised and financed invasion, brings chaos and problems, not peace.”

Salvini – who is now the Deputy Prime Minister of Italy’s coalition cabinet – says he wants to bring the far right from across Europe into an alliance.

Last week, only days after meeting Bannon in Rome, Salvini revealed his “vision of Europe for the next 50 years”, calling it the launch of a new right-wing coalition for the European parliamentary elections on 23 May.

Some say the timing of Italy’s new coalition and Salvini’s meeting with Bannon suggest Salvini has been handpicked as the informal leader of Eurosceptic populist forces in Europe.

According to Mischaël Modrikamen, the Movement’s managing director, six months ago Bannon and Salvini tweeted that Italy’s deputy prime minister “is in!”

Bannon also takes issue with the pope’s warnings over resurgent populist movements.

“You can go around Europe and it’s [populism] catching fire and the pope is just dead wrong,” he says.

After Salvini and Bannon’s 2016 meeting, Salvini was photographed holding up a T-shirt emblazoned with the words: “Benedict is my pope.”

The slogan refers to a Vatican version of the “birther” campaign waged by Trump against Barack Obama, claiming that Francis’s papacy is illegitimate and that his predecessor Benedict XVI is the true pontiff.

The League source also alleged that Salvini would have attacked the pope harder but was restrained by his own party, predominantly by Giancarlo Giorgetti, the deputy federal secretary of Lega Nord who is close to senior figures in the Vatican.

Bannon has been building opposition to Francis through his Dignitatis Humanae Institute, based in a 13th-century mountaintop monastery not far from Rome.

In January 2017, Bannon became a patron of the institute, whose honorary president is Cardinal Raymond Burke, who believes organised networks of homosexuals are spreading a “gay agenda” in the Vatican.

The institute’s chairman is former Italian MP Luca Volontè, who is presently on trial for corruption for accepting bribes from Azerbaijan. He has denied all charges.


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