Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon says Pope Francis is ‘beneath contempt’. Bannon is, of course, far from being the only Catholic to criticize the Pope, who is accused of watering down Catholic teaching. The pontiff’s stance on the migrant crisis – he has said migrants’ dignity should be a priority over national security – has also angered many Catholics, as has Francis’s recent suggestion that populism sows the hate that leads to Hitler. For Bannon, who despite having been married three times says that his Catholicism is central to his life, these things show that the Pope is on the side of the elite and not the little guy. His solution? Pope Francis needs to be more left wing:

‘His greatest failings outside the spiritual and theological are siding with the globalist elites against the citizens of the nations of the world. Memo to the Pope — if you want to cultivate a media image of working man’s champion, great; but you then actually have to stand up for the little guy, and not with the rich and powerful who drive the UN and the EU in favor of their own internationalist agendas at the little guy’s expense. His attempts to demonize the populist movement in Europe and the United States are beneath contempt.’

Bannon’s declaration of hostility towards the Pope is interesting on several levels. His sworn enemy may well be what is commonly called the liberal elite. But that term is confusing. It no longer means just the liberal-left. It consists of two forces that were once sworn enemies – the internationalist left, for whom nations are the root of all evil; and the global capitalist right, for whom nations are a barrier to profit. Although neither force in this unholy alliance does God, both approve of the Pope because they, like him, are in favor of open borders. This above all explains Bannon’s damning verdict on Pope Francis.

Sacked by Trump from the White House in August 2017, Bannon was then, in January 2018, fired by the alt-right website Breitbart. Reduced to dogmeat in America – or so his opponents insist – he has turned his attention to Europe where he now plans, he has said, to spend most of his time.

The political arm of his new mission – The Movement, which he describes as ‘a populist nationalist NGO’ – is well known. Based in Brussels, its aim is to aid and abet the populist parties of the EU in their quest to take over the European Parliament at the elections next May.

Far less known is the mission’s cultural arm: an academy for populists whose aim is to save Western civilization, no less, by putting back Judeo-Christian values at the heart of the European conversation. This ‘gladiator school for culture warriors’, as Bannon labeled it, is set to be based at a spectacular monastery in the mountains 70 miles east of Rome. It opens in June next year.

Just as few realize how left-wing Bannon can be, few realize how his Catholicism is at the core of his politics. He still attends mass regularly. Bannon is convinced that capitalism is not working any more because we in the West have jettisoned the Judeo-Christian values that stopped the bosses and the bankers treating people like commodities. To reverse this, these values – and not necessarily a belief in God Himself – are enough.

I am not so sure. Can such values carry sufficient clout without the belief in God that gives them their force? Either way, this issue will decide the fate of the West as it is so vital, not just to our economy, but to our entire way of life.

A few weeks ago, I went to the monastery perched 2,700 feet up the side of a mountain, the Certosa di Trisulti, where Bannon’s ‘academy’ will be based. Founded in 1204 by Pope Innocent III, it made me think of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry Potter books. On my visit, I met its director, Ben Harnwell, 43, a chemistry graduate of Warwick University. Originally from Leicester, Harnwell is the son of a fireman and a local government accountant. Harnwell was in Brussels working for Tory MEP Nirj Deva when, in 2004, he lost faith in the European project in which he had believed. He became a Catholic, subsequently setting up the Instituto Dignitatis Humanae in order to ‘protect Christian politicians in the public square from being no-platformed and sacked for their Christian views’. In 2010, he moved the institute to Rome; there, four years later, he met Bannon, who was, at the time, more or less a complete unknown. But this encounter changed Harnwell’s life. And thus was born the idea of the ‘gladiator school for culture warriors’ to save the West.

The president of the institute’s advisory board is the ultra-conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke, Pope Francis’s most outspoken critic within the Vatican, who has said disobeying the Pope is a ‘duty’ if he has ‘deviated from the faith’.

Bannon is one of five patrons of the institute. Its backers are private – mainly Americans and Brits, who are Catholics and Jews. In February, the institute won a contract from the Italian government to take on a 19-year lease on the Certosa di Trisulti, which has hundreds of rooms and 603,000 square feet of roof. The Cistercian monks who had been there since 1947 when they replaced the Carthusians were forced to give it up as there were only three of them left. The rent for the building is $114,500 (€100,000) a year, but every euro invested in restoration is taken off the rent.

So what is the plan now? It’s not to set up an alternative Papacy as was tried in Avignon in the 14th century. Instead, it’s to create a Leninist-style revolutionary cadre able to lead the people, no longer known as the proletariat, to victory. With or without Pope Francis. But as Bannon told me:

‘The Pope is the Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth. The Catholic Church is historically a pillar of Western Civilization. We’re not trying to destroy the Pope, but call him back to his responsibilities to speak for the little guy rather than acting as spokesman for the globalist elites — who, by the way, are no fans of the Catholic faith.’

At Hogwarts, they equip young wizards and witches with magic wands, brooms and spells. At Trisulti, the weapons of choice for its young culture warriors remain a secret for now, as does the curriculum.