The left-wing Huffington Post stooped to innuendo, slurs, and outright fabrication to manufacture out of whole cloth a dark conspiracy by Donald Trump’s chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon against Pope Francis.
Piggybacking on a baseless New York Times article by Jason Horowitz that imagined close ties between Bannon and “traditionalists in the Vatican,” Huffington Post writer Michele Somerville goes still further, alleging that Bannon is aligning himself “with the ultra-conservative fringe of Roman Catholicism” in order to wage a war on Pope Francis.
In her breathtaking ignorance, Somerville bases her entire thesis on an outright error. She mistakes Steve Bannon’s 2014 reference to the “Church militant”—a common Catholic expression referring to Christians on earth as opposed to those who have already died—for a traditionalist website by the same name. Although Bannon has no connection whatsoever with the website or its theories about Catholic doctrine, Somerville concocts a nefarious link between the two, attributing the website’s ideas to Bannon himself.
Throughout the rambling piece, Somerville lays out in great detail some of the more absurd ideas advocated by the Church Militant website, and by association suggests that Bannon must hold to the same theories. She seems ignorant of the fact that Bannon is unaware of the existence of the website and furthermore couldn’t care less about its doctrinal nitpicking.
Somerville’s first mistake was giving credence to Horowitz’s New York Times piece, which alleged that Bannon visited the Vatican in 2014 “to cultivate strategic alliances with those in Rome who share his interpretation of a right-wing ‘church militant’ theology.”
If Somerville had employed even a minimum of journalistic fact-checking, she would have quickly found that the Horowitz piece on the Bannon-Vatican connection was built on air. Although Horowitz alleges close ties between Bannon and “traditionalists in the Vatican,” he doesn’t cite a single Vatican official in the entire piece and instead relies on his fertile imagination to construct a web of alliances that do not exist.
In fact, when Horowitz floated his theory to Breitbart’s Rome bureau chief, Dr. Thomas Williams, Williams assured him that it had no basis in fact and that Bannon had never pursued alliances in the Vatican and had no interest in influencing church affairs. Despite this advice, Horowitz chose to publish the story anyway.
In point of fact, when Bannon visited Rome in April 2014, he only met with one Vatican official: Cardinal Raymond Burke, who at the time was head of the Vatican’s supreme court. As the highest ranking American in the Vatican and a conservative besides, Burke was sought out by Bannon not for a back-room meeting but for an on-camera interview as part of Breitbart’s media outreach. This was their sole meeting.
Moreover, despite Horowitz’s statement to the contrary, at the time of their meeting there had been no conflict between Cardinal Burke and Pope Francis, and Bannon was not attempting to stoke “divisions” within the Church.
Bannon pursued the idea of a Rome bureau for Breitbart News in 2014 because of his belief that politics is downstream of culture and that the moral voice of the Catholic Church has a powerful impact on the rest of the world.
In hiring Breitbart’s Rome bureau chief, Bannon chose not a Pope-basher or an anti-Catholic, but Dr. Thomas Williams, a theologian and former Catholic priest who has since written literally hundreds of articles on Pope Francis and the Vatican, nearly all of which have been sympathetic to the Pope.
Unable to mount an argument, Somerville instead descends to insults and baseless slurs, calling Bannon an “anti-Semitic Catholic” who only collaborates with Jews in order to achieve the greater good of defeating Islam. She similarly attempts to tar him as a proponent of “ultra-Catholicism” or “alt-right Roman Catholicism,” whatever that means.
“Bannon wants a war and he will use Jesus to get one,” Somerville ominously warns.
Fake news at its finest.
Follow Rebecca Mansour on Twitter @ramansour