A story of failures: How Steve Bannon tried to split the Vatican and dragged Matteo Salvini into his misfortune.
Steve Bannon had won many accolades before he arrived in Europe. Bannon was the “shadow president of the White House”, the “great manipulator” and of course the “devoted Roman-Catholic”. When Bannon entered Europe, it was a bit like a Columbus setting foot on the American continent. That is… he was admired by local tribes: the various right wing populist movements.
Here was the man who had made Donald Trump president. The strong and smart conservative, the man of thought and action united in a single human body. Instead of glass pearls and the Bible, Bannon brought “wisdom” and “secrets of success”. His arrival coincided with Marine Le Pen’s running for the office of French president, and Norbert Hofer from the right wing populist FPÖ, standing a fair chance to win the election for the Austrian presidency. The popularity of both the German AfD and Italian Lega were also rising fast.
The European tribes were not really sure how to deal with Bannon. For some, he was the ambassador of Trump himself, for others the “man of intellect”. Most saw in him a steadfast and strong Roman-Catholic who would bring God back, instead of Allah who has been busy choosing the furniture for his new European home. Bannon the Christian, Bannon the Catholic, Bannon the Crusader.
His crusade led him to Italy, one of the last countries with a strong right-wing populist movement which was obviously interested in his advice, while others were more cautious – for various well-considered reasons. Only a few mid-level functionaries from the AfD and other populist parties would pause to take selfies with Bannon.
Steve Bannon chose Italy as his stronghold, the cradle of Roman Catholicism, the bastion of the Pope, of so many Catholic Saints and of the old battles between the Catholic clergy and the German-dominated Empire of Medieval Times. And he discovered his new arch-enemy there: Pope Francis.
To avoid any misunderstanding, one should note that it is not known whether Bannon had been an ardent supporter of certain Catholic circles challenging the Vatican in the wake of the Second Ecumenical Council (1960s), or sympathetic to those who doubt or even reject the authority of contemporary Popes. As a loyal Roman-Catholic, Bannon had insisted that he was a devout servant of the Holy See. But the closer he came to the Sancta Sedes, the more he started identifying the Pope as the enemy of humanity.
In Italy, Bannon launched an attack on the Pope and recommended this very ill-considered strategy to Lega leader and former Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini.
To be clear: There may be many reasons why the Pope is deserving of criticism, or at least reasons enough to ignore him. Maybe the latter would have been the better choice in a country which hosts around 80 percent of Catholic followers and where the Vatican and the Pope himself are national symbols of pride. Yes, that balding individual with his extravagant headgear and red shoes uttering his frequent pronouncements.
Pope Francis has since morphed into an avid supporter of the autistic teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg, who also embraces illegal mass migration to Europe and never misses a chance of attacking right-wing populist movements in the hushed tones of a sacred shepherd.
It was the perfect target for Bannon who had craved increasing attacks on the Pope, and even enunciated some strange notions of perhaps “splitting” the Catholic church with the help of conservative Catholic clerics.
But attacking the Vatican is akin to attacking the national football team [Die Mannschaft] in Germany or demanding the demolition of the Eiffel tower in France. In other words: There are some smarter strategies to garner public support with.
Therefore, even the conservative Catholic clerics such as Cardinal Raymond L. Burke have distanced themselves from Steve Bannon. And Salvini? He joined in with Bannon’s rants against Francis, attacking Pope Francis harshly for his pro-migration statements. The Pope fired back and attacked right-wing movements, saying in interviews that he was concerned “because we hear speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934”.
Insiders of the Lega are certain that Bannon – by means of “consultations” – was trying to coax Salvini into starting an anti-Papal campaign. How many elderly Italian women and frequent church visitors would forgive him for that? Bannon certainly did not seem to care. He fantasized about “two churches” in Italy, the “progressive-liberal” Francis church on the one side and the “Catholic working class” community on the other with no sense at all of the ensuing liberal hocus-pocus. It was simply a 1:1 copy of “the people against the elites” strategy that Trump had used during his presidential campaign in the US.
Actually, what Bannon disliked was a Pope who had criticized his political views, while rejecting the tradition represented by the Pope. What he coveted most was the status of being a “Pope” himself.
Bannon’s ambition was to replace Francis and become some kind of a “Pope of Honour”, the Pope of the “Catholic working class”. The idea that someone would “pop up” to challenge the Pope, is not a novel one in European history. In Medieval Times, European Christianity actually witnessed two Popes who bitterly fought each other.
Bannon’s reputation in Europe took a turn for the worse with him posing daily as some kind of religious authority.
The focus on Bannon’s extroverted “Catholicism” was perhaps misguided, since he is rather driven by another religion, that of Vanity. It is no coincidence that especially Vanity and Vainglory are part of the seven deadly sins of Christianity. Both are seen as odious expressions of self-exaltation.
Steve Bannon made nothing better but instead he made many things worse on the European continent, a bit like Columbus. He left some glass pearls and other worthless “presents” for the indigenous peoples he had come into contact with. In addition, he may unwittingly have spread some viruses and bacteria.
Let us hope that Bannon’s expedition to Europe will not deeply harm European sovereigntists. His viruses and bacteria include hypocrisy, vanity and turmoil. Europe certainly does not need a Steve Bannon.