While we’ve all been watching the unruly vivisection of American democracy by a family full of spectacular grifters (in court papers, as part of a libel suit against The Daily Mail, the First Lady declared that one of her causes of action is the fact that the news outlet complicated her campaign to monetize being First Lady; I got nothing here) there’s been a lot of strange goings-on at the Vatican. The knives are out for Papa Francesco.
At the root of things is the fact that the pope gave the boot to Raymond Cardinal Burke, a theological reactionary and a guy who was born 500 years too late to be the high cleric of his dreams. This touched off a major squabble with the Knights of Malta. They’re serious power brokers within HMC even though they dress like Albanian ushers and despite the fact that just talking about them makes me start hearing “Hail, Hail Freedonia” in my mind. Burke was their chaplain. I do not know if a sword and a falcon goes with that office.
In the aftermath of these events, posters critical of Papa Francesco started popping up all over Rome. From Crux:
“Ah Francis, you’ve taken over congregations, removed priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of the Immaculate, ignored Cardinals… but where’s your mercy?” it reads. All around the Vatican in Rome, but also in several other venues, many of the posters were quickly removed or covered by another, smaller one that said they were “Illegal Postings,” but by then the impression had already been made.
There’s a genuine rebellion brewing in HMC, holy obedience be damned, you should pardon the expression. And today, The New York Times adds a bizarre—but completely predictable—bit of information to the story of that rebellion.
In one of the cardinal’s antechambers, amid religious statues and book-lined walls, Cardinal Burke and Mr. Bannon — who is now President Trump’s anti-establishment eminence — bonded over their shared worldview. They saw Islam as threatening to overrun a prostrate West weakened by the erosion of traditional Christian values, and viewed themselves as unjustly ostracized by out-of-touch political elites. “When you recognize someone who has sacrificed in order to remain true to his principles and who is fighting the same kind of battles in the cultural arena, in a different section of the battlefield, I’m not surprised there is a meeting of hearts,” said Benjamin Harnwell, a confidant of Cardinal Burke who arranged the 2014 meeting.
Just as Mr. Bannon has connected with far-right parties threatening to topple governments throughout Western Europe, he has also made common cause with elements in the Roman Catholic Church who oppose the direction Francis is taking them. Many share Mr. Bannon’s suspicion of Pope Francis as a dangerously misguided, and probably socialist, pontiff… For many of the pope’s ideological opponents in and around the Vatican, who are fearful of a pontiff they consider outwardly avuncular but internally a ruthless wielder of absolute political power, this angry moment in history is an opportunity to derail what they see as a disastrous papal agenda. And in Mr. Trump, and more directly in Mr. Bannon, some self-described “Rad Trads” — or radical traditionalists — see an alternate leader who will stand up for traditional Christian values and against Muslim interlopers.
If it wasn’t clear already, it should be now. Stephen Bannon, the last descendant of House Harkonnen, is not someone who wants to “disrupt the elites,” or whatever techie garbage he likes to toss around. He wants to establish himself at the head of a new, worldwide authoritarian elite that will reach into every institution and that will demolish any of those institutions that stand in the way of what he wants. The man is a political thug, and Burke is a theological thug. Marriage made somewhat lower than heaven.
This isn’t just a matter of the cafeteria having a few new and unfamiliar faces in the buffet line. This is dragging elements of the Church into alliances with white supremacists all over the world, lining up parts of the Church with the likes of Marine Le Pen in France. This is entering into an alliance with forces so completely contrary to the Church’s stated mission that they might as well give Cardinal Burke an army and let him march against the Languedoc.
In 1559, the Vatican banned Machiavelli’s masterwork, The Prince. (Machiavelli may have been part of a, well, Machiavellian plot to bring down the papacy.) They may have banned to book, but there are people in the Church who learned its lessons well.