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Cardinal Burke cuts ties with Dignitatis Humanae Institute amid Steve Bannon row

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The cardinal added that he had 'never worked with Mr Bannon in his organization'

A senior churchman supportive of traditional Catholic liturgy and often cast as a leader of opposition to Pope Francis, has resigned the honorary presidency of a controversial think tank, the Dignitatis Humanae Institute founded by British conservative Benjamin Harnwell, and distanced himself from a major political agitator with strong ties to the Institute, the former chief strategist in the Trump administration, Steve Bannon.

Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke issued a statement on Tuesday, explaining his reasons for becoming involved with the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, outlining the extent of his involvement, and resigning the honorary presidency of it. “I have been involved with the Dignitatis Humanae Institute for some years because of its work to support Christians in public life who act with respect for the moral law and, therefore, promote the common good,” Burke said in the statement. 

“In recent time,” the statement continued, “the Institute has become more and more identified with the political program of Mr. [Steve] Bannon.”

“While I have urged the Institute to return to its original purpose, it has not done so, as is evident in its involvement with this latest initiative of Mr. Bannon,” Cardinal Burke continued. “I have, therefore, effective immediately, terminated any relationship with the Dignitatis Humanae Institute.”

The proximate cause for the split was Bannon’s reported interest in a project to turn French investigative journalist Frederic Martel’s controversial book on homosexuality in the Vatican, published in English under the title, In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy into a movie. “I do not, in any way, agree with Mr. Bannon’s assessment of the book in question,” Burke said. 

“Furthermore, I am not at all of the mind that the book should be made into a film,” Cardinal Burke continued, adding that he disagrees “completely” with several of Mr. Bannon’s statements regarding Catholic doctrine and discipline. “Above all,” Burke said, “I find objectionable his statement calling into question the Church’s discipline of perpetual continence for the clergy, in accord with the example and desire of Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church.”

The extent of Cardinal Burke’s involvement with Bannon and DHI before the break has been a matter of speculation for some time, with some outlets conjecturing the relationship amounts to a sort of power axis bringing together traditionalist Catholicism and politically reactionary populist conservatism. 

“I have never worked with Mr. Bannon in his organization,” said Cardinal Burke, in apparent reference to The Movement, a Brussels-based outfit Bannon founded to help harness the rising tide of populism in Europe and build ties to groups with similar sympathies in the US. “I have met with him on occasion to discuss Catholic social teaching regarding certain political questions,” Burke went on to say, “but I have no part in his organization.” 

Cardinal Burke went on to explain that he always considered his meetings with Bannon to be pastoral. “In meeting with him, as in meeting with other political leaders, I have tried to fulfill my mission as a priest to teach the faith and morals for the common good.”

Currently the Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Cardinal Burke is also a member of the Apostolic Signatura — the highest ordinary administrative tribunal in the Church — of which he was prefect from 2008 to 2014. More recently, Cardinal Burke’s name appeared among those of several other senior churchmen who received money from the disgraced former Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Michael J. Bransfield, who is accused of serial sexual misconduct and financial mismanagement during his 13-year turn in leadership of the diocese. 

Cardinal Burke declined to comment on the matter, but a source close to the cardinal told the Catholic Herald the money the cardinal received was part of the customary holiday gift-giving practice in the US hierarchy, and that Cardinal Burke had given the money to charity. Burke’s press secretary had not responded to requests for clarification by press time.

Though Cardinal Burke has been a vocal critic of Pope Francis in certain significant respects, especially those regarding the teaching of the faith and the discipline of the Church, which arose in the wake of Francis’s 2016 post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, he has long eschewed the title of opposition leader, and is on record as rejecting and repudiating any disloyalty to the Pope or disunity in the Church. “[I]t is a source of anguish for me,” Burke told this journalist in January of last year, “people suggesting that I would lead a schism.”

“I will never be part of any schism,” Burke went on to say in that conversation, “even if I should be punished within the Church for what I in good conscience am trying to do to teach the Catholic faith and to defend it as I am obliged to do, first of all as a Christian but even more so as a Bishop and a Cardinal of the Church.”

“I will never abandon the Catholic Church,” he said, “because it is the Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ, who established Peter as the Head of the Apostolic College, as the principle of the unity [of] the Church throughout the world.”