Letter #8, 2017: The New York Times and Steve Bannon

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February 7, 2017, Tuesday — The New York Times and Steve Bannon

“Vatican Traditionalists See Hero in Trump Aide.” —Headline of a New York Times front-page article today (link) which argues that “Vatican Traditionalists” see US President Donald Trump’s top aide and “strategic advisor,” the Irish American Catholic and former Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon, as their “Hero.” However, the article does not cite a single “Vatican Traditionalist” in support of this thesis. This prompts the question: Fake news?

“In a newly turbulent world, Francis is suddenly a lonelier figure. Where once Francis had a powerful ally in the White House in Barack Obama, now there is Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon, this new president’s ideological guru. For many of the Pope’s ideological opponents in and around the Vatican, who are fearful of a pontiff they consider outwardly avuncular but internally a ruthless wielder of absolute political power, this angry moment in history is an opportunity to derail what they see as a disastrous papal agenda.” —The central thesis of the New York Times article this morning: that the election of President Trump (and the rise of his advisor, Steven Bannon) is being seen by “Catholic Traditionalists” as a chance to “derail” the agenda of Pope Francis. However, again, no proof of this thesis is offered. The thesis is essentially an assertion of the author.

“There was a sense in the Order (of Malta) 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.” —A key line from this Times article: the author, citing one unidentified but “influential” Knight of Malta, says that “there was a sense” in the Order of Malta that Cardinal Burke was able to influence the Grand Master, Fra Matthew Festing, “because he projected authority, a power that stemmed in part from his support by the Trump administration.” But again, no evidence is presented that Burke has been supported in any way by the Trump administration.

“Despite Mr. Bannon’s inroads in Rome, Mr. Burke and other traditionalists are not ascendant in the Vatican.” —Very odd use of the word “Mr.” to describe “Cardinal” Burke. Either it is a typo, or it is intentional. If it is a typo, an oversight, it is unimportant. But if it is intentional, then what does it mean? Is it an attempt at foreshadowing? Does it express the hidden “wish” of Times editors? Do they subconsciously desire to see Cardinal Burke “demoted” by Pope Francis to the status of a layman, so that the title “Mr. Burke” will be appropriate?

“The Pope, Father Spadaro said, is doing everything he can to avoid the clash of civilizations that both fundamentalist Muslims and Christians want.” —The main point of the work of Pope Francis over the past four years: to avoid or head off a global clash, a global war, between Christians and Muslims. On this, Pope Francis is certainly right: a global war between Christians and Muslims would be tragic for everyone


Correction: I wrote yesterday that letters “SPQR” in Rome refer to the Latin words: “Senatus Populus que Romanus” (“The Roman Senate and People”). However, Latin requires that “que,” which means “and,” be attached to the word before it when linking the two previous words. So, the correct Latin is: “Senatus Populusque Romanus,” literally “The Senate and People Roman” (that is, “The Roman Senate and People”). I made the “que” a separate word because I thought otherwise many people would ask “Where is the word beginning with ‘q’?” I apologize for any confusion this may have caused.


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Today brings a disappointing article from The New York Times.

The article is disappointing because, though mildly interesting, it gives no evidence to support its chief thesis: that Trump advisor Steve Bannon has been forging links with “Traditional Catholics” in the Vatican in order to context the reforms of Pope Francis.

For this reason, I would like to go through this article carefully, observing how it is “stitched together” to give the impression that some evidence is being brought to bear while in truth no evidence at all is being given.

In doing this, my target is not the author of the piece, who clearly has toiled to research and compose his piece, but rather the New York Times editors who exploited the work of this journalist for a polemical purpose and a conclusion far beyond what the available evidence warrants.

This is an egregious case of editorial overreach for a polemical purpose, and I find it shameful.

Here below is the text of today’s very misleading article, with my comments interwoven. Enjoy the read…

The New York Times, Page 1, Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Steve Bannon Carries Battles to Another Influential Hub: The Vatican

By JASON HOROWITZ

FEB. 7, 2017

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(Pope Francis leading a prayer at the Vatican in late January. The Pope’s agenda has made him a figure of unmatched global popularity, especially among liberals. Credit L’Osservatore Romano, via Reuters)

ROME — 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.

[Note: From the outset, we are introduced to two key characters; Steve Bannon, Trump’s advisor, and Cardinal Burke, the “archconservative” American cardinal. The canonization of Pope John Paul II was on April 27, 2014. So the meeting between Bannon and Burke which will be recounted occurred in that time frame. That was before the first Synod on the Family, which was to take place in October 2014…]

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.

[Note: We ask ourselves: Where did the journalist get this information? Was he present at the meeting? We learn that, no, he was not present… but the meeting was described to him by someone who, evidently, was present. But who was that person? Was it Bannon? Cardinal Burke? No… it was…]

“When you recognize someone who has sacrificed in order to remain true to his principles and who is fighting the same kind of battles in the cultural arena, in a different section of the battlefield, I’m not surprised there is a meeting of hearts,” said Benjamin Harnwell, a confidant of Cardinal Burke who arranged the 2014 meeting.

(Note: Here below, an image of Steve Bannon (left) and Benjamin Harnwell (right) in St. Peter’s Square on April 27, 2014, at the Canonization of Pope John Paul II)

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[Note: Ok, now we have the source: Benjamin Harnwell. He is described as a “confidant of Cardinal Burke” and the person who “arranged the 2014 meeting” between Bannon and Burke… So, presumably, it is Harnwell who is telling the journalist what happened during the meeting, and of how the two men “viewed themselves as unjustly ostracized” by “out-of-touch political elites,” of how there was a “meeting of hearts.” But note, Harnwell is not a Vatican official, though he runs a Foundation with offices in Rome. So, we still do not have any source for the claim in the headline that “Vatican Traditionalists” see in Steve Bannon a “hero”…]

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.

[Note: Ok. Now we have a sudden expansion of the meaning of the Burke-Bannon meeting of April 2014 to include “many… traditionalists in the Vatican” who view — but there is no evidence given for this! — that the “election (of Trump) and the ascendance of Mr. Bannon” are “potentially game-changing breakthroughs.” But who is saying this? No one. This story has “jumped the shark” from the description of one meeting of Cardinal Burke with Bannon and Harnwell (evidently) to present the general “mood” in the Vatican today, since the November 8 election of Trump… But there is no support given for this assertion…]

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.

[Note: No examples of this “common cause” are given. No names of these “elements” are given. These “facts” are merely assertions…]

Many share Mr. Bannon’s suspicion of Pope Francis as a dangerously misguided, and probably socialist, pontiff.

[Note: No source for this assertion.]

Until now, Francis has marginalized or demoted the traditionalists, notably Cardinal Burke, carrying out an inclusive agenda on migration, climate change and poverty that has made the Pope a figure of unmatched global popularity, especially among liberals.

[Note: A broad-brush, simplistic description of the four years of this papacy…]

Yet in a newly turbulent world, Francis is suddenly a lonelier figure. Where once Francis had a powerful ally in the White House in Barack Obama, now there is Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon, this new president’s ideological guru.

[Note: Ok… Now we are beginning to get the thesis of this piece; that the Trump election has changed the political “calculation of forces” also for the Vatican and the Pope. But again, no one in the Vatican is cited as saying this…]

For many of the Pope’s ideological opponents in and around the Vatican, who are fearful of a pontiff they consider outwardly avuncular but internally a ruthless wielder of absolute political power, this angry moment in history is an opportunity to derail what they see as a disastrous papal agenda.

[Note: Ok… still waiting for a source to appear from the Vatican, other than Harnwell, who is not a Vatican official… The writer is telling us what the “ideological opponents” of Pope Francis think about him, but he has no sources for these assertions…]

And in Mr. Trump, and more directly in Mr. Bannon, some self-described “Rad Trads” — or radical traditionalists — see an alternate leader who will stand up for traditional Christian values and against Muslim interlopers.

[Note: Ok… now we know who is being set up to play the role of allies with Trump and Steve Bannon — the “rad-trads,” the “radical Traditionalists”… Will we hear from one of them? Will one of them confirm this is their view?…]

“There are huge areas where we and the Pope do overlap, and as a loyal Catholic, I don’t want to spend my life fighting against the Pope on issues where I won’t change his mind,” Mr. Harnwell said over a lunch of cannelloni. “Far more valuable for me would be spend time working constructively with Steve Bannon.”

[Note: Ok, so we are back to Harnwell, now at lunch near the Vatican — not inside the Vatican, it would appear — over a nice plate of cannelloni. (Nice detail; but where is the “cannelloni” with regard to the Vatican traditionalist sources who will provide support for this report?) The message of Harnwell is, in fact, that Harnwell agrees with Pope Francis on “huge areas” and does not want to “fight against the Pope,” that he is “loyal” to Pope Francis because he is a “loyal Catholic,” but that he does wish to “work constructively” with Steve Bannon, that is, with one of the more powerful, influential men now in the United States, arguably the most powerful country on earth. This seems a reasonable, pragmatic position for a Catholic activist on issues of human life and human dignity to take. Does it suggest any “hero-worship” with regard to Bannon? I don’t think so…]

He made it clear he was speaking for himself, not for the Institute for Human Dignity, a conservative Catholic group that he founded, and insisted that he shared the Pope’s goals of ensuring peace and ending poverty, just not his ideas on how to achieve it.

[Note: So Harnwell is at pains to stress how much he shares with the agenda and vision of Pope Francis…]

Mr. Bannon publicly articulated his worldview in remarks a few months after his meeting with Cardinal Burke, at a Vatican conference organized by Mr. Harnwell’s institute.

[Note: Ok. This is the talk Bannon gave via video from Los Angeles. After spending time in Rome in April 2014, he went back to the States, and during the summer of 2014, participated in Harnwell’s annual conference via video… The conference was held inside the Vatican, but Bannon was not present, he was in Los Angeles…]

Speaking via video feed from Los Angeles, Mr. Bannon, a Catholic, held forth against rampant secularization, the existential threat of Islam, and a capitalism that had drifted from the moral foundations of Christianity.

[Note: The entire text of the talk was sent out in my Letter #6 of a few days ago, and may be found here]

That talk has garnered much attention, and approval by conservatives, for its explicit expression of Mr. Bannon’s vision.

[Note: Yes, the talk has “garnered much attention,” but it is a stretch to say it has garnered “approval by conservatives.” In fact, the talk is much more detailed in presenting Bannon’s worldview than the summary depictions of those views given by most of the press coverage up until now, so much so that the talk has been read with curiosity. But who has “approved” of the views expressed? No one is cited. Again: this is an assertion, not a report of a fact…]

Less widely known are his efforts to cultivate strategic alliances with those in Rome who share his interpretation of a right-wing “Church militant” theology.

[Ok, now perhaps we will get some real insight into Bannon’s “efforts to cultivate strategic alliances” with “those in Rome who share his interpretation of a right-wing ‘Church militant’ theology.” (But actually, we will never get any evidence of this, sorry to tell you in advance…) Some thoughtful and learned readers will be able to dissect this muddled sentence better than I can. Clearly, the phrase “Church militant” is used here as if it refers to some sort of “militant” Catholic group of extreme conservatives; but this is nonsense. And uninformed. In Catholic teaching, the “Church Militant” is a term used to describe the Church in the world, struggling, living, sacrificing, loving, in contrast to the “Church Suffering,” which is the Church in Purgatory, where the souls of those who committed sins are expiating the penalty for the pain and suffering they caused others through their willful sins during their earthly lives, and also in contrast to the “Church Triumphant,” which is the Church in heaven, where there is no longer any suffering, but only the pure vision of God, and the surpassing, inexpressible joy that brings… So the use of “Church Militant” as a term connected with “right-wing” politics is entirely off-base. But these things are no longer widely known even among Catholic scholars and theologians, so the editors of the Times may perhaps be forgiven for having no idea at all about what this term really means…]

Mr. Bannon’s visage, speeches and endorsement of Mr. Harnwell as “the smartest guy in Rome” are featured heavily on the website of Mr. Harnwell’s foundation.

[Ok, now we are back again to Harnwell, this time, to his website… Wait a minute… I thought we were going to hear about Bannon’s efforts to cultivate strategic alliances with some other people in Rome!… Maybe that is still to come…]

Mr. Trump’s senior adviser has maintained email contact with Cardinal Burke, according to Mr. Harnwell, who dropped by the cardinal’s residence after lunch.

[Ah! Bingo… Bannon and Cardinal Burke are in… email contact! At least, Harnwell says so… I wonder how often they write to each other? Or, did they just exchange email addresses at the end of their meeting? We are not told…]

And another person with knowledge of Mr. Bannon’s current outreach said the White House official is personally calling his contacts in Rome for thoughts on who should be the Trump administration’s ambassador to the Holy See.

[Ok… Hmmmm… Now we have an anonymous source, perhaps not in Rome — it could be someone in America with “knowledge of Bannon’s current outreach” — or, if in Rome, it could be… an American… in the US Embassy… who is telling the Times’ reporter that… Bannon “is personally calling his contacts in Rome for thoughts on who should be the… ambassador to the Holy See”… Ok… But, I thought we were going to get info on Bannon’s “efforts to cultivate strategic alliances with those in Rome who share his interpretation of a right-wing ‘Church militant’ theology.” What happened? Nothing on that at all…]

During Mr. Bannon’s April 2014 trip he courted Edward Pentin, a leading conservative Vatican reporter, as a potential correspondent in Rome for Breitbart, the website that is popular with the alt-right, a far-right movement that has attracted white supremacists.

[Ok, well, now I’m scratching my head. I realize journalists are great fellows, and honest, and loyal, and hard-working, but to say that meeting with or courting a journalist, even one as noble and worthy as Ed Pentin, is part of a vast, well-planned effort to form “strategic alliances with those in Rome who share his interpretation of a right-wing ‘Church militant’ theology” is a bit of a stretch. Still waiting to see who Bannon is reaching out to inside the Vatican… Forget about the journalists… By the way, he even talked to me when he was in Rome… We shared a private 4-hour dinner together…]

“He really seemed to get the battles the Church needs to fight,” said Mr. Pentin, the author of “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?” a book asserting that Pope Francis and his supporters railroaded opponents.

[Ok. And where’s the beef? Who is Bannon allying himself with? Pentin?]

Chief among those battles, Mr. Pentin said, was Mr. Bannon’s focus on countering a “cultural Marxism” that had seeped into the Church.

[Ok. Now, here is a point we could potentially discuss — even if the source is just Pentin, not a Vatican official. The question is: to what extent has a “cultural Marxism” seeped into the Church, and to what extent should any Catholic whatsoever be happy if this has happened or is happening. The point is, if Bannon were to wish to contest a “cultural Marxism” in Catholicism, would he be wrong? Or would he not be squarely within the mainline tradition of Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and even Francis as well? Marxism is a materialist philosophy which denies that spiritual things have any reality whatsoever. It denies that the Christian sacramental system contributes life to men and women, by granting them grace at baptism, and in confession, and in communion, and in confirmation, and in holy matrimony, and in holy orders, and in the last rites. All of that is irrelevant, actually ridiculous, for the cultural Marxists. So what believing Catholic would not view the wholesale rejection of his faith and of the goods his faith brings to mankind as something to be countered? But this is the accusation made here against Bannon, that he has a “focus” on “countering a ‘cultural Marxism'” in the Church…]

Since that visit and the meeting with Cardinal Burke — an experience that Daniel Fluette, the head of production for Breitbart, described as “incredibly powerful” for Mr. Bannon — Mr. Trump’s ideological strategist has maintained a focus on Rome.

[Ok, we are still on that April 2014 courtesy call by Bannon and Harnwell on Cardinal Burke in his Vatican apartment, located just next to the press office on Via Rusticucci. Now we are told that the meeting was an “incredibly powerful” experience for Bannon. But we are still waiting for more on Bannon’s “efforts to cultivate strategic alliances with those in Rome who share his interpretation of a right-wing ‘Church militant’ theology.”]

Mr. Bannon returned to direct the documentary “Torchbearer,” in which the “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson contemplates the apocalyptic consequences of an eroding Christendom. Mr. Bannon also reunited with old friends, including Breitbart’s eventual Rome correspondent, Thomas Williams.

[All right, now we are on to… another journalist… Thomas Williams… We still do not have a single Vatican official who is saying anything about how someone in the Vatican views Trump, or Bannon, or the Pope… Nothing…]

A former priest, Mr. Williams said that he used to have arguments with Mr. Bannon about whether the Pope subscribed to a hard-left brand of liberation theology, with Mr. Bannon calling the Pope a “socialist/communist.”

[So we have Williams, an American who is not a Vatican official, who does not live inside the Vatican, telling us about his conversations with Bannon, evidently in 2014 when Bannon was in Rome, and Williams’ recollection that Bannon referred to the Pope as a “socialist/communist.” This is at least a quotation from a source. But it is not evidence of Bannon cultivating strategic alliances with powerful Vatican insiders… Still nothing…]

Mr. Williams said he usually defended the Pope, but that recent statements by Francis convinced him “Steve turned out to be right. That happens more often than not.”

[Ok. So we have a debate about the Pope between Williams and Bannon. But where are the strategic alliances Bannon is forming with Vatican power players?… Nothing…]

Mr. Bannon’s private thoughts about the Pope have at times surfaced in public. On May 23, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Williams spoke about Pope Francis on the radio program Breitbart News Daily.

[Ok, we are still on Williams and Bannon… There are no other sources in this whole piece thus far other than Harnwell, Pentin and Williams — no Vatican officials whatsoever…]

Discussing a Breitbart article about the new mayor of London titled “Pope Hails Election of Sadiq Khan, Celebrates Mass Muslim Migration Into Europe,” Mr. Bannon suggested that the Pope “seems almost to be putting the responsibility on the working men and women of Italy and Europe et cetera, that they have to go out of their way to accommodate” migration. Was the Pope a global elitist, Mr. Bannon asked, “two or three steps removed from this?”

[Ok, so once again, Bannon is wondering who Pope Francis really is and what his positions are. In fact, he seems not s much antagonistic to the Pope as bemused, puzzled, by him… How this helps prove that Bannon is developing strategic Vatican alliances to undermine the Pope is unclear… Still nothing…]

Many critics of Francis express similar views, but they are often scared to express it for fear of retribution from the Pope, who, they say, has eyes and ears all over the Vatican.

[Here the source is the famous “many”… “many critics”… none of whom are willing to talk! Still nothing…]

Instead, the Pope’s critics anonymously papered Rome over the weekend with posters of a grumpy-looking Francis above complaints about his removing and ignoring clerics and cardinals. “Where’s your mercy?” it asked.

[Ok, the story of the anonymous posters. What does this have to do with Bannon and his alliances with Vatican traditionalists?]

Conservatives and traditionalists in the Vatican secretly pass around phony mock-ups of the Vatican’s official paper, L’Osservatore Romano, making fun of the Pope.

[Well, doesn’t sound like such a reign of terror, does it? But aren’t we a little off the topic now? Where are Bannon and his Vatican accomplices in building a global “alt-right” alliance? Nowhere to be found.]

Or they spread a YouTube video critiquing the Pope and his exhortation on love in the family, “Amoris Laetitia,” which many traditionalists consider Francis’ opening salvo against the doctrine of the Church. Set to the music of “That’s Amore,” an aggrieved crooner sings, “When will we all be freed from this cruel tyranny, that’s Amoris” and “It’s the climate of fear engineered for four years, that’s Amoris.”

[So some have made a joking, mocking video, at the Pope’s expense. Who? We never learn the answer… Again, doesn’t seem like a climate or terror in Rome…But is the suggestion that Bannon has something to do with this? If so, what? How? Where is the Bannon who is forging his ties with the Vatican right-wingers?]

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.

[Ok. Well, Burke by some standards has been unusually outspoken, but by others, he has been comparatively silent. He has said nothing at all for weeks now…]

Cardinal Burke and Mr. Bannon declined to comment for this article.

[That’s a problem. That is the problem with this article, which has no sources.]

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.

[True, or so it seems for the moment. Time will tell…]

The Pope had removed the order’s grand master after he showed disobedience to the Pope.

[Also true, though the Grand Master in fact resigned at the Pope’s invitation, and what the reason for the Pope’s invitation was we still do not know…]

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.

[Ah! Now we have another source, not Harnwell, not a journalist like Pentin and Williams, but… a Knight of Malta… Still, he is anonymous, and could be from any nation, Italian, British, American… We do not know… We do not even know if he is in Rome…. All we do know is that this is not a direct quote, and it refers to “a sense” in the Order of Malta that Cardinal Burke projected authority because of “his support by the Trump administration.” But there is no evidence for this! It is a feeling the Knights had! Did Cardinal Burke ever say, “Now that Trump is President, and now that Steve Bannon, my friend since April 2014, is his advisor, I have their support, and so I have more authority than ever.” To me, this seems… ridiculous…]

Cardinal Burke has become a champion to conservatives in the United States.

[Well, to some extent… And so? I thought we were talking about other Vatican officials that Bannon has been forging links with. What’s the deal?]

Under Mr. Bannon, Breitbart News urged its Rome correspondent to write sympathetically about him.

[Ok, this seems likely to be Williams telling the Times journalist what his guidelines were to keep in mind in covering Cardinal Burke. So we still have no other sources for this story that Harnwell, Pentin and Williams…Not a single Vatican official, not a single Italian…]

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.

[Ok….And so?]

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.”

[Ok… So Cardinal Burke is supported by a group of conservative American and Canadian Catholics (Life Site News is based in Toronto). This is not news…]

Despite Mr. Bannon’s inroads in Rome, Mr. Burke and other traditionalists are not ascendant in the Vatican.

[What inroads? We have not heard of any inroads beyond a meeting with Cardinal Burke in April 2014! And note: here Cardinal Burke is referred to as “Mr. Burke.” That seems peculiar…]

The Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest who edits the Vatican-approved journal La Civilta Cattolica and who is close to the Pope, dismissed their criticism as the stuff of a noisy but small “echo chamber.”

[Ok, now we have some words from someone who is not part of the network of strategic alliances Steve Bannon is alleged to be building in Rome — evidence for which has not been presented. Spadaro is close to the Pope, he is Italian, he is very bright, and he is very much in favor of the Pope’s “progressive” direction in recent years… But we have still not met anyone who is becoming an ally of Bannon]

He also played down the effect of Mr. Trump’s ascent on the standing of Francis’ opponents in the Vatican, saying it was only on a “level of image” and “propaganda.”

[Hmmmm…. “Image”? “Propaganda”? Would any words be better suited to a piece of journalism like this? Ok, still waiting…]

The Pope will maintain his direction and not be distracted by fights against those trying to undercut him, Father Spadaro said. “He moves forward, and he moves ahead very fast.”

[Ok.]

He added that Mr. Trump’s ban on immigrants from certain Muslim countries was “opposite” to the pontiff’s vision for how to foster unity and peace.

[Here we do have a serious issue, and everyone agrees it is serious. Nevertheless, this brief sentence grossly oversimplifies. The Pope himself has said that care must be taken not to overwhelm the societies which receive refugees, and his close ally, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, Austria, recently said that Austria will not be able to take many more refugees because Austria’s social structures will be overwhelmed. (link) More and more people of good will are recognizing that a primary focus must be helping people in their own countries, bringing peace, bringing prosperity, not simply moving vast numbers of people out of their home country to new countries. So this sentence above sets up what I think is a false Pope Francis-President Trump dichotomy on an issue which cries out for better solutions than any proposed up to now. So the Times is using this quotation from Spadaro to set up a direct, unresolvable confrontation between Trump and the Pope. Imagine that! But perhaps both men will seek to diminish their differences in order to find better solutions to the refugee and immigration problem which everyone recognizes…That would astonish the world… A Trump-Pope Francis summit which led to some pragmatic agreements to really help people…]

The Pope, Father Spadaro said, is doing everything he can to avoid the clash of civilizations that both fundamentalist Muslims and Christians want.

[Ok… This is actually a quite important point, and it explains the mind of Pope Francis. He is — according to Spadaro, and Spadaro is likely right on this — not looking at the near-term aspects of this great problem, but at the overarching issue of “clash of civilizations.” And on that issue, he is clear: there ought not to be a clash which would set “Christians” against “Muslims.” And I profoundly agree with the Pope on this — seemingly over against Steve Bannon, who seems to believe the clash is inevitable (see his 2014 talk referenced above). So in some ways, this is the most important sentence in this entire, under-sourced, tendentious article…]

Indeed, the Pope does not seem to be slowing down.

[Ok… But what does this have to do with Bannon?]

Days after the election of Mr. Trump, in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican officially elevated new cardinals selected by Pope Francis who reflected the Pope’s emphasis on an inclusive Church — far from the worldview of Mr. Bannon and Mr. Burke.

[Hmmmm…. Again, “Mr. Burke” instead of “Cardinal Burke.” Do the editors of the Times have a policy to call cardinals “Mr.”? Anyway, again, this sentence is an assertion, with no evidence or proof brought to bear… None has been brought to bear up until up to here, why start now? What the term “inclusive Church” means needs to be defined… Certainly Jesus was “inclusive,” but he also — note well — whipped the money changers out of the Temple, and said those who harmed innocent children that they would have been better to have been drowned in the sea with millstones around their necks… So there are limits to the inclusivity of Christ Himself… The sentence is simply not useful…]

“It’s not that he is just bringing new people in that think maybe like him,” Cardinal Blase Cupich, the influential new cardinal of Chicago, said after the ceremony. “He is transforming the Church in making us rethink how we have done things before.”

[Pretty innocuous, banal words… Not useful… Also, the words “making us rethink how we have done things before” seems garbled to me. What does it mean?]

That transformation was evident later in the evening, when the old conservative guard came to pay their respects to the new cardinals.

[This description is a bit misleading. I was there myself that evening, and I am not part of the “old conservative guard.” During these visits to the new cardinals, anyone, including laypeople, can come to greet them and congratulate them. The building was filled with “non-old guard” visitors… me among them…]

João Braz de Aviz, a powerful cardinal close to the Pope, walked around in simple cleric clothes, the equivalent of civilian dress among all the flowing cassocks.

[Braz de Aviz is a Brazilian and very much a friendly man who does not put on airs. I have run into him for years walking in his simple black clergymen clothes in the area around Borgo Pio. So he was “dressed down” on this occasion in November 2016. But others wore traditional flowing robes. And, in any case, what does this have to do with the links Bannon is forming inside the Vatican? Does Braz de Aviz have anything to do with this story?]

Asked whether the ascent of Mr. Trump would embolden Mr. Bannon’s allies in the Vatican to intensify their opposition and force the Pope to take a more orthodox line, he shrugged.

[My goodness! What can one say about this bizarre passage? First, we have not heard of any “allies” of “Mr. Bannon” in the Vatican, other than (allegedly) Burke. So if we have only heard of one ally, this piece should not say “allies” but “ally.” But even that one ally, the American, Cardinal Burke, may not in fact be an “ally.” We have been told that Burke is an “ally” of Trump on the basis of having had one meeting with Steve Bannon in April 2014, a year before Trump was even a candidate for the presidency, and that Burke and Bannon afterwards exchanged emails. We have no further evidence about their contacts, their shared positions, nothing. Second, the expression “force the Pope to take a more orthodox line” is fraught with problems. The Pope is sovereign. No one “forces” him to do anything. Perhaps one can attempt to persuade him via arguments to take one decision or another; but no one can “force” him. And the words “take a more orthodox line” are problematic because orthodoxy cannot be “more” or “less” orthodox, it can only be orthodox or unorthodox, and if it is unorthodox, it is heretical… Pope Francis himself would never say that he wishes to be “less orthodox” but only “less rigid” in the application of laws or principles which all agree are true, and that is what this ongoing struggle is all about…]

“The doctrine is secure,” he said, adding that the mission of the Church was more to safeguard the poor. It was also, he reminded his traditionalist colleagues, to serve St. Peter, whose authority is passed down through the Popes. “And today, Francis is Peter.”

[And so this article comes to an abrupt and unsatisfactory end, with Cardinal Braz de Aviz assuring the journalist that Church doctrine is not in question, that the Church is committed to love and support the miserable and suffering in the world, and that the Church must be loyal to St. Peter, who is at present Pope Francis. And thus we end this article without ever having heard one voice from inside the Vatican speak about any sort of strategic alliance between the Catholic Church and Steve Bannon representing Donald Trump and his presidency. The title of the article “Vatican Traditionalists See Hero in Trump Aide” is simply fiction, made up out of nothing, not a shred of evidence, nothing whatsoever. Not even one passerby under the colonnade of St. Peter’s has told the journalist that Bannon is a hero to him. No one anywhere in this long article says Bannon is a hero. Is is simply made up. The New York Times should be ashamed. And on the front page, too, as if they were proud of this story…]

A version of this article appears in print on February 7, 2017, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Vatican Traditionalists See Hero in Trump Aide.


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Here is the text of a talk Cardinal Burke gave to the Dignitatis Humanae Conference in the Vatican in 2013. Steve Bannon gave a talk to this same conference a year later, in the summer of 2014.

The July 5, 2013 Talk of Cardinal Burke to the Dignitatis Humanae Conference in Rome (link)

5-July-2013 — ZENIT.org News Agency

Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke’s Speech at Second Annual International Conference on Human Dignity

VATICAN CITY, July 04, 2013 (Zenit.org) – Here is the speech delivered by Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, at the Second Annual International Conference on Human Dignity at the Dignitatis Humane Institute in Vatican City.

* * *
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, Good evening to you all.

It is a pleasure to participate in tonight’s special dinner in the magnificent environs of the Casina Pio IV, in order to celebrate of the work of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, an organization which exists to witness to the unique and immeasurable good of human life, of the human person. Why is this so important? Precisely for the reason articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Dignity: “[I]t is the recognition of the dignity of Man that is most lacking in our society, not rights, and that this imbalance must be redressed.” It is precisely to support the redressing of the imbalance that we have gathered this evening.

Promoting human dignity necessarily means respecting all human beings without exception, men and women equally, from conception to natural death. It is learned in the home, founded on the model of the strong, traditionally-understood family, whose members mutually support and love one other. The Dignitatis Humanae Institute, our host tonight, exists to promote human dignity based on the recognition that each one of us is made in the image and likeness of God.

At the heart of the commitment to safeguard and promote the fundamental good of human life is our faith in Jesus Christ and His Gospel which guides us all on the pilgrimage of our daily living. It is the faith which believes the words of Our Lord in the Beatitudes. It is the faith of the Virgin Mary who trusted that God’s promises to her would be fulfilled.

But the truth regarding the inviolable dignity of every human life is under constant attack in an ever-more secularized world. One only has to read the daily newspaper or turn on the television for the evening news to know that the Christian’s holding to the truth of the moral law is no longer tolerated by many, and that the secularist agenda never ceases in its efforts to overshadow, drown out, and intimidate the witness of faithful Christians. The goal is to silence the Christian witness.

But we cannot succumb to such tactics. I urge all who are here this evening to stand firm in your witness, knowing that it is indeed the Lord’s work and that He will never fail to accompany you.

Tonight, the Vigil of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, two of the greatest saints who are venerated by all Christians, gives us particular inspiration in our steadfast witness to the inviolable dignity of innocent human life.

Tomorrow, we will celebrate their martyrdom in Rome for love of Christ and in faithful witness to His Gospel. We trust in the intercession of the Prince of the Apostles and of the Apostle of the Gentiles, even as we recognize that the persecution which they suffered is not only a reality recorded in books of history but continues in our own time.

Even as we gather to celebrate the work of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, we are conscious that Christian persecution is sadly at a high point throughout the world. We read every day of such persecution, for example, in Syria, Egypt, Eritrea, Nigeria and Indonesia, but we also see examples in our own nations, which have a rich Christian heritage and yet have turned their back on the very foundational truths taught by the Christian faith.

Political leaders in my home country, the United States, are relentlessly advocating further liberalization of any restriction upon procured abortion. They are backed by powerful lobby groups with vested interests, such as Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International. Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, we have witnessed a Gay Marriage Act, forced through Parliament in spite of considerable opposition with little consideration of its legal impact upon the Catholic Church and society, in general.

The secular form of coercion can also be seen in the United Nations which makes its support for third-world countries dependent upon the provision of contraception and abortion.

A thinly-disguised population control agenda is steadfastly at work in the sheep’s clothing called “maternal health.” The agenda, in fact, has nothing to do with maternity and nothing to do with health. We cannot be deceived. There is no greater issue facing human dignity today than the relentless attack on human life, the integrity of the human body. It is the plight of those who are born into a twofold poverty, the poverty of their personal circumstances and the poverty of the developing world.

As these examples teach us, laws and policies are being employed to further the secular agenda, yet with little reflection upon the sort of “brave new world” which is thereby developed. Without a careful articulation of the inviolable dignity of innocent human life, society’s only measure of the good of an individual human life is what the person possesses or produces.

It is the way of moral relativism which indeed, in the words of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is a tyranny based on the supremacy of the strong and the neglect of the weak and vulnerable.

The rapid moral decline of society has resulted in what Blessed Pope John Paul II correctly called the “culture of death.” We must recognize that the culture of death advances in good part because of a lack of attention and information among the public. It is all too easy, with the intensity of the modern world and the preoccupation with our own lives and their struggles, to overlook a pervasive and negative trend of our society. Ignorance and lack of attention of the public is what allows the culture of death to continue and become ever more pervasive. We cannot allow this culture of death to increase and to snuff out our Christian way of life.

How can we ensure that the culture of death will not dominate our lives and our society? First of all, those of us who are Christians must all be attentive to laws that safeguard the dignity of the human person. We must support just laws which respect the inviolable dignity of human life. And we must support the political leaders who work for such legislation. Similarly, it is essential that we become aware of the laws and policies which are attacking human dignity and the goods of our Christian faith, some of which I have mentioned earlier.

In addition to the enhanced awareness of public policy, we must work toward a new evangelization regarding human life. We have the magna charta for such a new evangelization in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae of Blessed Pope John Paul II. The transformation of hearts by which one truly believes in the dignity of all men, without boundary, is the most fundamental means of a new evangelization.

The new evangelization flourishes when we as Christians proclaim the Gospel of life, a message that God calls us to promote everyday in our thoughts, in our words, and in our actions.

At the core of this Gospel of life is the sacredness and dignity of human life. Acknowledging, safeguarding and promoting the sacredness and dignity of human life is fundamental and irreplaceable to the seeking of the common good. If people do not acknowledge the dignity of all human beings without exception, the common good, authentically understood, can never thrive.

An essential way in which we can proclaim the Gospel of Life is through strong, supportive, and traditional families with a mother and father who love their children unconditionally. Children witness the Gospel of Life in the relationship of their parents with one another and in the relationship that their parents have with them. The solid relationships between parents, and between the parents and their children, based on respect for human life, leads to a transformation of hearts in which the gospel of life is learned and lived.

Additionally, healthy families depend on a new proclamation of the truth regarding women and motherhood that upholds the virtues of purity, chastity and modesty, and respect for the integrity of marriage and the family. These goods are also under attack. We cannot permit such attacks to continue. The family shapes society, and by advocating for and promoting strong, traditional family life, we will continue to replace the culture of death with the culture of life and love for which God calls us to work, even as He gives us the strength to accomplish the work.

Despite the virulent strains of secularism, there are millions of Christians across the world who have risen up in response to the culture of death with their own manifestations of support of the culture of life, in their work place, and in the public square.

What we have recently witnessed in France is an eloquent example. Just two weeks ago, 40,000 people gathered in Dublin to march against a government bill to legalize abortion.

This rally was the largest in the history of the country and showed the public’s desire to safeguard the life of both the mother and the child. In Brazil, talk show host and pastor Silas Malafia recently led another march of at least 40,000 people against proposed laws to legalize abortion and so-called “gay marriage.” And in the United States a new pro-life coalition called Stop the Gosnells was recently formed to prevent from occurring in the future crimes like those committed by Dr. Kermit Gosnell.

I cannot fail to mention that we have in our presence tonight one of the great world leaders of such popular movements, Luca Volonte, the Chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute. Luca finished his term of office today as President of the European People’s Party in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg. He has been a guiding force behind the Manif pour tous in France. I recall his words to the thousands who rallied in Paris in defence of the traditional marriage. He declared that their witness was “the most beautiful surprise of Europe this year” in the battle for a civilization of life.

Seeing hundreds of thousands unified in witnessing to the Gospel of life gives hope that a new evangelization regarding human life and the dignity of human life will continue and develop, leading our culture along the right path, the path that leads to true freedom and, therefore, lasting peace. These manifestations of faith truly give me hope and inspiration. So, too, does your presence here tonight. A most significant event has taken place here today because leaders from across Europe and beyond Europe have gathered to discuss the fundamental importance of human life and dignity.

All of you here tonight are working toward the goal of a new engagement and a new energy in safeguarding and promoting the inviolable dignity of innocent human life. In the name of the Church, I thank you. It is because of leaders like yourselves that the new evangelization continues and grows. It will continue to spread so long as we work together and let our Christian faith guide us.

Finally, I want to say on a personal level how happy I am to be with you tonight, in order to show my support of this initiative which my brother, His Eminence Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, has been promoting for the last few years with the good results which all can see. Most people in the secular world nurture the ambition to retire at the age of 55. Cardinal Martino, who reached the age of 80 last year, is going as strongly as ever.

In many ways, Your Eminence, your work as Honorary President of this Institute ties together the main themes of all your major accomplishments, from your work at the United Nations for which you were the Papal Nuncio for 16 years (during which you led the successful resistance at Cairo in 1994 to stop the UN from promoting abortion as a method of family planning) to your overseeing of the publication of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, in which you most rightly take great pride.

I pay tribute to you tonight, Your Eminence. I am proud as a member of the Sacred College of Cardinals to see one of my brothers so ably demonstrating the very highest dedication to one of the most fundamental of our important responsibilities. May God grant you many more years of fruitful service as Honorary President of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, energetically endorsing what the British Parliamentarian Lord Alton of Liverpool said about the Institute: It is indeed the most important organization promoting human dignity in the world today.

Thinking specifically about the Universal Declaration of Human Dignity which the Dignitatis Humanae Institute exists to promote, I compliment the Institute for its excellent service in bringing the Church face to face with the secular ambient, so that this important document will be more fully understood and appreciated. There are few other institutions with the call to promote human dignity, which fulfill that mission as authentically and comprehensively as does this Institute.

I wholeheartedly encourage you, and I commend your work to the protection of Mary Immaculate, to whom this Institute was consecrated at its foundation.

As the Founding Patron of the Institute, Rocco Buttiglione, likes to say: we can always pray to the Madonna for her intercession; but we must always pray to her for her protection.

Thank you for your attention to these words. I wish for you every good success in your important mission. May God — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — bless you and all your labors.

+ Raymond Leo Cardinal BURKE

(to be continued)

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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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