Action Alert!

A Burke-Bannon conspiracy against Pope Francis? Nonsense!

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 07, 2017

An influential American political activist, the adviser to a controversial new President, conspires with a Catholic cardinal against the Pope. That sounds like the makings of a great story, doesn’t it? No wonder the New York Times gave it such prominence! No wonder so many other media outlets are picking up the theme.

Just one problem. It’s baloney.

Actually the unmaking of this promising conspiracy theory can be found right in the story by reporter Jason Horowitz—if you look for it carefully. Yes, Steve Bannon met with Cardinal Raymond Burke during a trip to the Vatican. But that meeting took place in April 2014. That was before Bannon joined the Trump campaign team—indeed before there was a Trump presidential campaign. It was before the publication of Amoris Laetitia, before the dubia.

At the time, Bannon was an executive for an upstart news service. Raised as a Catholic (although his current practice is a matter of some conjecture), he was keenly interested in religious affairs. As a conservative American visiting Rome, he was naturally interested in talking to an American cardinal known for his conservative views. No doubt they discussed some common interests; very likely they found that they shared mutual friends. But any suggestion that this meeting was the start of a grand conspiracy against the Holy Father is foolish.

Pope Francis has become a focus of division within the Catholic Church, especially in recent months, for reasons that have nothing to do with Steve Bannon, much less Donald Trump. It was not Bannon who tried to rig the Synod of Bishops; Breitbart did not publish Amoris Laetitia. The Pope’s public denunciations of the Roman Curia began before Bannon’s 2014 visit, as did his attacks on the “doctors of the law.”

Has criticism of Pope Francis become more pronounced recently? Yes, certainly. But that criticism is centered on a matter of Catholic doctrine—the teachings on marriage and the Eucharist—rather than on the political issues that are Bannon’s primary interest. (And by the way, the thrice-divorced White House aide is not likely to share Cardinal Burke’s determination to preserve the indissolubility of the marital bond.)

American journalists tend to view all religious issues through political lenses, and consequently their view is distorted. No doubt Bannon sees possibilities for collaboration with some of the Pope’s internal critics; seeking out such alliances is, after all, a major part of his role as a political strategist. But insofar as he succeeds, he will be exploiting the divisions within the Church, not creating them.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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