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US cardinal severs ties with group linked to Steve Bannon

VATICAN CITY — A conservative American cardinal distanced himself Tuesday from former White House adviser Steve Bannon and severed ties with a Bannon-linked institute that wants to train future populist leaders in Europe.

Cardinal Raymond Burke said in a statement Tuesday that he was terminating his relationship with the Dignitatis Humanae Institute immediately because “it has become more identified with the political program of Mr. Bannon.” Burke had been its honorary president.

Bannon and the institute launched plans to establish an academy for future populists at a medieval monastery outside Rome. Italy’s government has blocked the project over unpaid concession fees and a failure to do necessary maintenance.

The final straw for Burke appears to have been a report Tuesday that Bannon hinted he was interested in making a film about the Vatican’s gay subculture, based on a book by gay French writer Frederic Martel.

The book, “In the Closet of the Vatican,” was released to great fanfare in February. In it, Martel exposed what he said was a vast community of gay but homophobic priests, monsignors and cardinals at the Holy See.

In his statement, Burke said he disagreed that Martel’s book should be made into a film and also disagreed with many of Bannon’s statements about the doctrine and discipline of the Catholic Church.

News reports have frequently painted Burke as Bannon’s point-person at the Vatican, a claim Burke appeared keen to quash Tuesday. He said he met with Bannon on occasion, as he has with other political leaders, but did so only in his mission as a priest.

“I have never worked with Mr. Bannon in his organization and am not presently doing so,” Burke said.

Bannon has become a fierce critic of Pope Francis, particularly on migration issues. Burke, too, has been critical of Francis; he was one of four cardinals who publicly called on the pope to clarify his opening toward divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

Francis removed Burke as the head of the Vatican’s supreme court in 2014, and more recently sidelined him as the patron of the Knights of Malta.

Bannon and Dignitatis Humanae founder Benjamin Harnwell didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment late Tuesday. Harnwell’s institute, founded in 2008, is a Catholic-inspired think tank that says it seeks to support Christians in public life.

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