In TV interview, Steve Bannon slams church, bishops over immigration

| Rhina Guidos | September 7, 2017 | 6 Comments

Former White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon is seen at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Feb. 23. CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters

In an interview set to air Sept. 10 on the CBS TV program “60 Minutes,” former White House strategist Steve Bannon criticized the Catholic Church and U.S. bishops for their views on immigration, saying “they need illegal aliens to fill the pews.”

In the interview Bannon, a Catholic, told newsman Charlie Rose that the bishops have “an economic interest in illegal immigration.” He also criticized his former boss, President Donald Trump, for taking a step back hours after ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, when the president said on Twitter that he might revisit the decision in six months.

“Trust me, the guys in the far right, the guys on the conservative side are not happy with this,” Bannon said.

Catholic officials, including a representative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, disputed the claim.

CBS released advance clips of the interview Sept. 7.

The interview marks the first time since leaving the Trump administration that Bannon, who founded the website Breitbart News, has spoken out. Since leaving the administration, he has returned to Breitbart.

Citing the Gospel call to welcome the stranger and other church teachings, the U.S. bishops have urged for comprehensive immigration reform and for the protection of youth under the DACA program.

Bannon said the U.S bishops have been “terrible” about handling immigration because they can’t “come to grips with the problems in the church. They need illegal aliens. They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. That’s — it’s obvious on the face of it.”

Bannon said immigration issues are not part of church doctrine and the bishops need to understand that “this is about the sovereignty of a nation.”

“And in that regard,” he added, “they’re just another guy with an opinion.”

In a Sept. 7 statement responding to Bannon’s interview, James Rogers, chief communications officer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said it is “preposterous to claim that justice for immigrants isn’t central to Catholic teaching,” noting that the mandate comes directly from the words of Jesus, who spoke of feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger.

“Immigrants and refugees are precisely the strangers we must welcome,” he added, saying: “This isn’t Catholic partisanship. The Bible is clear: Welcoming immigrants is indispensable to our faith.”

Rogers also noted that caring for the “Dreamers,” or DACA recipients, is a response to commands in both the Old and New Testaments.

He said the bishops’ views on life issues, marriage, health and immigration reform are “rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ rather than the convenient political trends of the day.”

Rogers stressed that for anyone to suggest that the bishops’ recent statements on immigrants are for “financial gain is outrageous and insulting.”

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan offered similar reaction in a Sept. 7 interview on the Jennifer Fulwiler Show, on The Catholic Channel, on SiriusXM satellite radio.

The cardinal said he had seen a transcript of the Bannon interview on “60 Minutes” and was “rather befuddled” by it.

He said Bannon’s comment that “the only reason the bishops care for immigrants is because we want to fill our churches and get more money” was insulting.

He also said he wanted to clarify Bannon’s remark that immigration issues are not part of church doctrine.

“He might be right,” the cardinal said: “it comes from the Bible itself,” which he said is very clear about treating immigrants with dignity and respect.

Contributing to this report was Carol Zimmermann.

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  • di36464

    “Justice for immigrants” that’s exactly what our laws provide. It is unjust for illegals to take precedence over those following the law.

  • Charles C.

    I wonder if there is some delicate way to put this. Just as the Pope often says things which can be described as requiring calm reflection and consideration of context before we can decide that he is in danger of slipping off the rails, so too with Steve Bannon, long known for incendiary and brash comments. If Bannon says things off the cuff, in interviews, which are widely reported to much controversy, that should feel very familiar to Catholics.

    I don’t intend to compare Bannon to the Pope, I’m comparing both of them to the average human.

    The transcript leaves it unclear whether Bannon thinks that financial gain or filling the pews are the ONLY reasons for the USCCB’s position. If he meant that, he would be wrong.

    However, it is true that the Catholic Church benefits from the contributions of parishioners and from government grants for resettlement efforts. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Charities, and other Church organizations combine to receive hundreds of millions of dollars each year from the government for “refugees.” (Statistics trivia: in 2015 about 65% of Catholic Charities budget came from some level of government. “He who pays the piper calls the tune?”)

    Immigrants are a source of revenue for the USCCB. From a 2013 article:

    “Refugee resettlement is profitable to the organizations involved in it. They receive money from the federal government for each refugee they bring over. They have almost no real responsibilities for these refugees. After 4 months the “sponsoring” organization is not even required to know where the refugee lives.

    “There are 9 main major refugee resettlement organizations (Volags from “Voluntary Agency”) with approximately 450 affiliated organizations throughout the country; many are run by former refugees. [The USCCB is one]

    “Below are some of the sources of income for Volags:
    a. $1,850 per refugee (including children) from the State Department.
    b. Up to $2,200 for each refugee by participating in a U.S. DHHS program known as Matching Grant. To get the $2,200, the Volag need only show it spent $200 and gave away $800 worth of donated clothes, furniture or cars.
    c. The Volag pockets 25% of every transportation loan it collects from refugees it “sponsors”.
    d. All Volag expenses and overhead in the Washington, DC HQ are paid by the U.S. government.
    e. For their refugee programs, Volags collect money from all federal grant programs – “Marriage Initiative”, “Faith-based”, “Ownership Society”, etc., as well as from various state and local grants.”

    My own opinion (and it is just an opinion)? The USCCB has been encouraged by Pope Francis to emphasize politics and social activities as the Church’s primary fields of endeavor. This allows them to more freely exercise their liberal political opinions in areas which are reserved by tradition, reason, or the Catechism to those properly the concern of the State. The extra money is a nice plus.

  • Jon

    There might be “more proof in the pudding” in the stance by the Bishops that they are rooted in Scripture in welcoming the immigrant if they would also show efforts to bring in and support refugees from the Ukraine.

  • Annetta

    We must remember the Church is a large tent with the extreme right and the extreme left with the rest of us in the middle helping to keep things sane. We are a church of Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler. We know if we keep the light of the spirit alive in us we will know peace and provide the message in our lives and actions. The opposite is not the way Mother Teresa lived or any of the saints. May we pray for this man, call the darkness out when appropriate and in our own lives live the gospels and seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching. It will keep the light in the darkness.

    • Charles C.

      Too bad The Catholic Spirit decided not to publish the stories about sitting US senators (far more influential than Bannon) questioning whether an orthodox Catholic can be a federal judge. Of course, those are Democrat senators, perhaps they need to be protected from people who “call the darkness out when appropriate.”

      • Maria Wiering

        Hi Charles C., just to follow up, you’ll find a story about the senators’ questioning of Amy Coney Barrett as a featured story on our site. We published it as soon as it was available.