Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Bannon Wants a War and He Will Use Jesus to Get One: President Bannon, Trump & the Ultra-Conservative Roman Catholic Fringe


Conservative Christians displayed great readiness, in the U.S. 2016 presidential election, to dispense with Jesus for reasons of political expedience. Evangelicals backed the least Christian GOP candidate in the running. Their Trump, a twice-divorced candidate credibly accused of sexual assault and marital rape is a “Christian” with no religious practice, who was ― right up until campaign time ― a life-long proponent of abortion. The Tea Party, Christian Right, Moral Majority and conservative Catholics have a long history of name-checking Jesus at every opportunity. We see through that now. We now know the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t count. We now see that Jesus was a mascot. Steve Bannon, alt-right Catholic, is the embodiment of the ultra-conservative Catholic Church of no Jesus.

How does a thrice-married man manage that “practicing Catholic” thing? Doctrinal prohibitions against receiving Catholic sacraments while divorced and remarried do exist, but they are often negotiable, and wealthy men have always managed to obtain plenary indulgences and annulments. Newt Gingrich obtained a clean slate via Roman Catholic conversion and his extra-marital sex partner (now his third wife) who sings in the choir may wind up as U.S. Embassador to the Vatican. Roman Catholicism does redemption splendidly.

Furthermore, if the company he keeps is any indication, Bannon appears to run with Catholic extremists who wear their redemption with pride. Jason Horowitz’s feature in the February 7th New York Times (“Steve Bannon Carries Battles to Another Influential Hub: The Vatican”) offers a glimpse at Bannon’s special interest in The Church Militant. To get a good sense of what most contemporary Church Miltiant folk believe, one can read the words of the founder/leader of The Church Militant website, Michael Voris, who underwent what he calls a “reversion” to Roman Catholicism after more than decade of sexual sinning with men and women. God and the deaths of his mother and brother cured Michael Voris of his concupiscence, and he went on, post-redemption, to become the voice of The Church Militant. There’s no zealot like a “revert.”

People can believe what they believe, but I believe the Church Militant’s politics interest Bannon as much as their religious perspectives do. “The only way to run a country,” Voris has said publically, “is by benevolent dictatorship, a Catholic monarch who protects religious life.” The Church Militant’s perspectives on Judaism might help to explain Bannon’s curious disposition toward Jews. He denounces what he calls “Rabbinic Judaism” as fake religion. Voris believes that the Jewish religion died after the destruction of the first temple and that Catholicism is the true continuation of “the covenant.” But Israel is the cradle of the one true faith, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The greater good of defeating Islam demands that anti-semitic Catholics collaborate and compromise with Jews.

Trump, who clearly has little interest in anything spiritual, may see, in Bannon’s ultra-Catholicism, the same kind of promise Putin sees in the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s no accident that the performance that landed Pussy Riot in the slammer took place in a Russian cathedral. The Russian Orthodox Church has been squarely on the side of Putin, and both have in mind the vision of purging the world of Islam. The Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches are closely linked, doctrinally and theologically, so Trump’s Putin love and Bannon’s alt-right Roman Catholicism may result in stronger political ties develop between the Church of Rome and the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Church Militant today—like most ultra-conservative fringe Roman Catholic groups—strains to redefine Catholic social teaching by reaching back to arguments and theology that pre-date the Second Vatican Council. (The name for the group derives from “ecclesia militans,” a term that is not essentially militaristic, but which is used to characterize the earthly church.) Bannon may or may not be, may or may not want to be associated with Voris et al, but all of these ultra-conservative fringe groups, which have much in common (though among themselves they are quite fractious) tend to be antisemitic and islamophobic in the extreme.

And the Church Militant is not the only extremist Catholic group with which Steve Bannon has been associated. His friend Thomas Williams was described in a January 10th New York Times piece as the former “face of the conservative Legion of Christ religious order.” Bannon and Williams met while the latter was consulting on Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ. (Gibson belongs to another ultra-conservative fringe group.)

Moral theologian Thomas Williams fathered a child in (about) 2005, kept it secret for several years and wound up leaving the priesthood eight years later. Prior to leaving the priesthood, Williams left the Legion of Christ when its founder and “general” Marcel Maciel Dellogado (a close friend of Pope John Paul II) was removed from ministry following a scandal. Pope Benedict XVI removed Maciel from ministry in 2006 when an investigation revealed Maciel’s secret women and children, sexual abuse of children and seminarians, drug use and fiscal impropriety, came to light. One of Maciel’s sons claimed, after Maciel’s death, that his father had sexually abused him. Bannon’s moral theologian friend currently serves as Rome Bureau Chief for Breitbart.

Roman Catholicism is complex and its changing intricacies are usually of little interest to people outside of the Church. The reaching back to pre-Vatican II teaching (much of it literally medieval) should worry us all. As a child preparing for my first Communion in 1964 or 5, for example, I was taught that unbaptized babies who died headed straight for Limbo. Formation has changed dramatically, and theology has evolved since then. But not for the Church Militant:

The goal of the Church Militant is to fight Satan in all his many disguises, which also include the sacred cows of the liberal leftists, many of whom are entrenched inside the Church. In this fight to the death, there is no retreat. We die fighting and achieve eternal life.

Many Western Christians are quick to dismiss such sentiments as fanatical madness when young Islamic men articulate them, but Bannon’s Church Militant embraces this “Christian soldier ” view of things. This claim to know God’s specific preferences lends itself to an “end justifies the means” approach to salvation. Fight fire with fire is the idea. Catholicism can defeat Islam is the battle cry. For these Catholics, it’s not just life in the material world that hangs in the balance, but also, eternal souls are on the line. And the Church Militant guy has a fantasy about an all-Catholic vote: “The only way to prevent a democracy from committing suicide is to limit the vote to faithful Catholics.”




It’s no accident that Bannon and the “alt-right” are aligning themselves with the ultra-conservative fringe of Roman Catholicism. Bannon wants a war and he will use Jesus to get one. Bannon and Trump will stand in line with Israel, the lunatic Catholic fringe, dishonest moral theologians and Putin ― as well as with any other necessary “strange bedfellows” for the chance to throw Baby Jesus out with the Baptismal water, because when it comes to prejudice, greed and the making of war, Jesus just gets in the way.