June 26, 2019 / 6:25 PM / 2 months ago

Conservative Vatican cardinal withdraws support for Steve Bannon

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke, for years a strong backer of Steve Bannon, has yanked his support for the former Trump White House adviser and his plan to set up a right-wing Catholic academy in Italy.

Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon sits on the stage during the Nordic Media Festival in Bergen, Norway, May 9, 2019. Terje Pedersen/ NTB Scanpix via REUTERS

Burke said he was withdrawing his backing after Bannon was quoted as saying he supported making a film from a recent book alleging widespread homosexuality in Vatican.

The book, “In the Closet of the Vatican”, by French author Frederic Martel, contains several pages about Burke but does not say he is homosexual.

“I do not, in any way, agree with Mr. Bannon’s assessment of the book in question,” Burke says in a letter posted on his Twitter account on Tuesday.

“I disagree completely with a number of Mr. Bannon’s statements regarding the doctrine and discipline of the Roman Catholic Church,” Burke said.

The American cardinal, who is one of Pope Francis’s fiercest critics and a point of reference for Catholic conservatives worldwide, said he was immediately terminating his relationship with the Dignitatis Humanae Institute think-tank.

Bannon, a Catholic, was helping to craft the curriculum for a leadership course aimed at right-wing Catholic activists as part of a program for a new academy which would be part of the institute but based in an 800-year-old monastery south of Rome.

Burke had been president of the institute’s board of advisers since 2013 and was recently made an honorary president.

Asked for comment on Burke’s letter, Bannon said in an email to Reuters that he was on the U.S.-Mexico border, and had bad communications.

In an email to Reuters for a story on the institute last year, Burke praised Bannon as “a well-recognized strategic thinker” and said he was “pleased that he is taking a leading role in the development of this academy”.

In that email, Burke said he was looking forward to working with Bannon and the institute’s founder, Benjamin Harnwell, “to promote a number of projects that should make a decisive contribution to the defense of what used to be called Christendom”.

Bannon, who has launched a campaign to build a populist movement across Europe, had been raising funds for the institute and its plan for the academy at the monastery, according to Harnwell.

The letter from Burke was the latest setback for the institute and the academy plan.

Last month, Italy’s Culture Ministry, which owns the mountaintop property, withdrew the lease, citing violations of various contractual obligations. Harnwell told Reuters he would challenge the decision in court.

In January, another honorary president of the institute, Cardinal Renato Martino, an Italian, also stepped down.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in London; Editing by Alison Williams

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