Tale of two New York Times stories: Seeking links in ultimate anti-Pope Francis conspiracy

What we have here are two interesting stories, which appear to be connected by a bridge of New York Times paranoia. It’s that latest addition to a growing canon of work attempting to connect Donald Trump to a vast right-wing Catholic conspiracy to bring down the compassionate, progressive Pope Francis.

The first story is a legitimate profile of Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, whose life has taken her from the heights of glitterati fame to where she is now — a Catholic philanthropist with very conservative Catholic beliefs and a willingness to work with the rich and the poor.

The second story is — brace yourself — about Stephen K. Bannon and his ongoing efforts to promote his own power and prestige, primarily by spinning conspiracy theories that make cultural progressives go nuts. (Click here for a GetReligion post about a previous chapter in this drama and here for another.)

That leads us to the New York Times opus with this headline: “The ‘It’ ’80s Party Girl Is Now a Defender of the Catholic Faith.”

This is a story that I would think made Bannon very, very happy.

At the same time, it is a story in which Princess Gloria makes one or two comments about Bannon, but then basically shows herself to be a conservative Catholic who greatly admires the now retired Pope Benedict XVI. Yes, the does have questions about some of the actions of Pope Francis and, yes, she admires Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. You know what that means in mainstream press circles.

Let’s tiptoe into this, looking at the key summary statement and, then, the statement of Gray Lady theology that frames this whole two-stories-in-one train wreck.

Princess Gloria — once christened “Princess TNT” for her explosive years as a hard partying, art-collecting, punk-haired aristocrat — has grown into the sun queen around which many traditionalist Roman Catholics opposed to Pope Francis orbit. Her Regensburg castle is a potential “Gladiator School” for conservative Catholics on a crusade to preserve church traditions.

Her Roman palace overlooking the ancient forum is a preferred salon for opposition cardinals, bitter bishops and populists like Stephen K. Bannon. Many of them are hoping to use the sex abuse crisis that amounts to the greatest existential threat to the church in centuries to topple the 81-year-old pontiff, who they are convinced is destroying the faith.

Now, for that blast of Times theology. The key is that the following shows, once again, that the journalism issue here is NOT an anti-religious bias. No, the key to this piece of advocacy journalism is that there are good Catholics and bad Catholics and that the Times team gets to decide who is who.

Looking for a debate between Francis defenders and his critics, a piece in which leader on both sides of the debate get to see their views represented in an accurate and fair manner? That’s not what is going on here. So here goes nothing.

(Princess Gloria) argued that instead of the pope’s emphasis on inclusion, the church needed to honor its laws and doctrines and undergo a spiritual conversion, much like she had undergone when her husband died nearly 30 years ago, to a more missionary and orthodox belief.

The second half of that doctrinal equation, actually, isn’t that far off. That is probably close (this is paraphrased material) to what she said. But how does one argue against the “pope’s emphasis on inclusion"? Defending Catholic doctrine is the opposite of “inclusion.” Would Francis even agree with that statement?

The river of Bannon self-promotion in this story speaks for itself. What his work has to do with conservative critics of current trends in the Vatican is another matter. But, obviously, this all has to have something to do with Bannon and Trump. Right?

Here is the crucial Bannon material, with the attempt to link his work to Princess Gloria:

Asked whether Princess Gloria was among those prominent donors, he raised a knowing eyebrow and said, “I cannot disclose any of the donors.”

He acknowledged in a subsequent interview that he and Mr. Harnwell were “looking at a place” at the foot of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City as a base for his political movement to elect populist politicians across Europe. “But it may also be the local beachhead of the Gladiator School,” he said.

Princess Gloria said she welcomed Mr. Bannon’s contributions to the orthodox movement and found him to be an excellent communicator, political strategist and “Hollywood guy.”

Hold that thought. By the way, is “Hollywood guy” a compliment in conservative Catholic circles? Just asking.

What is interesting is to read the Bannon material — which is crucial to the Times thesis — and then read the following from the princess, who makes it clear that “she wasn’t cutting any checks” for Bannon.

“We all want great things, but who is going to pay for it?” Princess Gloria, wearing a string of mothball sized pearls, asked rhetorically.

She ridiculed the possibility of investing $100 million to turn the monastery, where she was horrified to encounter a colony of bats, into a school.

“Sometimes men are dreamers and we women are more practical,” she said. “That’s why I said, ‘Great idea, start small.’”

At this point, there is an interesting interjection:

(Mr. Bannon said Friday he hoped to launch a small “prototype” course in the spring. He credited Princess Gloria as “a key player in Rome” and added he had not asked her to donate “given her already enormous support for the traditionalist Catholic project in Rome.”)

So is the prince of darkness claiming that she is a donor and major supporter of his work, or what?

Then we are back to Princess Gloria whose life and concerns, as I said, seem to be part of a completely different story:

… Before Mr. Bannon helped the cause, Princess Gloria suggested, he first needed to get his own spiritual house in order.

“I’m there to help, but I’m very strict and I say: ‘O.K., let’s go to church first. Change your life,’” she said. Asked specifically whether she meant she wanted Mr. Bannon to regularly attend church before he tried to fix it, she smiled. “I want to see all of my friends be faithful Catholics first. And then we can start.”

Princess Gloria speaks from experience.

At that point, readers get to hear a bit of this woman’s story — which really is quite a tale. I would really like to read a straight-forward, non-paranoid piece of journalism about her. How about you?

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