An influential conservative cardinal with ties to Steve Bannon called their relationship quits on Tuesday. The news followed a report that stated Bannon endorses allowing priests to marry and that he believes a majority of clergy members in the Vatican are gay.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was removed from a high-ranking Vatican post following clashes with Pope Francis, is the longtime chair of an organization in Rome working with Bannon to create a far-right political institute.
"I disagree completely with a number of Mr. Bannon's statements regarding the doctrine and discipline of the Roman Catholic Church," Burke said in a statement posted to Twitter Tuesday, highlighting Bannon's endorsement of letting priests marry.
Burke also said, "I have never worked with Mr. Bannon in his organization," and that he has only met with him "on occasion to discuss Catholic social teaching regarding certain political questions."
Burke issued the statement in response to a post published June 24 on the anti-abortion LifeSite News that said Bannon had proposed making a movie of the book In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy by left-wing French journalist Frédéric Martel. The book is based on years of reporting and describes an underground gay culture that allegedly pervades the top levels of the Vatican hierarchy.
Martel told BuzzFeed News that Bannon invited him to lunch in Paris on May 19 to discuss his book. During the lunch, Martel said, it was suggested that Bannon's allies in Rome were probably gay, and Bannon agreed that was likely true. Martel said Bannon endorsed allowing priests to marry and other changes to the church's sexual doctrine so that the church can focus on "the important issue: China, Islam, immigration and so on."
Martel said Bannon was interested in making a movie of In the Closet of the Vatican to expose the reality of the church. He also made clear to BuzzFeed News that he was not interested in making a movie with Bannon.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Bannon's spokesperson, Alexandra Preate, said: "While the book is controversial and Mr Bannon does not agree with all parts, he believes there is an overwhelming argument in the book of homosexual infiltration of Vatican hierarchy." The statement continued: "Mr Bannon does not believe his allies in the Vatican are gay.”
LifeSite News has deleted its post about the meeting. Neither its author, Maike Hickson, nor LifeSite Editor-in-Chief John-Henry Westin responded to questions from BuzzFeed News.
Hickson had shared several drafts of the story with both Bannon and Martel, according to an email exchange obtained by BuzzFeed News, which appears to confirm Martel's account. In one version from June 18, Hickson quoted Bannon as telling Martel, “I was told it is not 80 percent [of members of the Vatican clergy who are gay] — it is closer to 90 percent.” The draft also mentioned an earlier report in a French publication saying that Bannon also endorsed allowing heterosexual priests to marry.
The email thread shows that Preate wrote to Hickson, "The version below is good for now." But Hickson then made more changes, and Preate asked for more opportunities to review the text. The email thread does not include a final version.
In his statement repudiating Bannon, Burke also announced that he was resigning from the advisory board of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, a 10-year-old organization that describes its mission as "supporting Christians in public life."
The meeting between Bannon and Martel was arranged by Ben Harnwell, the director of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, which was working with Bannon to develop a political training program. The institute also helped connect Bannon inside the Vatican, including hosting a 2014 address in which Bannon spelled out his sweeping vision to build a "global tea party movement."
Burke was then already chair of the institute's advisory board; he was recently made its honorary president. News reports suggested he was also enthusiastic about the political school, telling Reuters in 2018 he thought the collaboration would “promote a number of projects that should make a decisive contribution to the defence of what used to be called Christendom.”
"In recent time, the Institute has become more and more identified with the political program of Mr. Bannon," Burke said in his letter on Tuesday. "I have, therefore, effectively immediately, terminated any relationship with the Dignitatis Humanae Institute."
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Harnwell said the LifeSite post was "inaccurate," and that he arranged the meeting between Bannon and Martel solely in his "personal capacity."
"Cardinal Burke has been a principal guiding figure to the DHI, not to mention a good friend, over many years,” he added.