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Milo Yiannopoulos trash-talks pope in Catholic magazine interview

Milo Yiannopoulos presents his (and Steve Bannon’s) apocalyptic Catholic narrative

Right Wing Commentator Milo Yiannopoulos Gives Speech At Plaza In Berkeley
Right Wing Commentator Milo Yiannopoulos has long been a controversial media figure
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Milo Yiannopoulos, the notoriously outspoken alt-right activist and former Breitbart staffer, is no stranger to highlighting the seemingly contradictory elements of his public persona. He is a far-right conservative of Jewish ancestry with ties to neo-Nazis. He’s also married to a black man, despite having a record of making racist statements. But in his latest interview — originally scheduled to run in Jesuit-led America magazine — Yiannopoulos embraced a different identity: the deeply religious gay Catholic.

Yiannopoulos says America killed the emailed interview prior to publication. He speculated that this may have been the result of his criticism of the magazine’s editor-at-large, Father James Martin, a vocal proponent of LGBTQ acceptance in the Catholic Church. In the interview, Yiannopoulos said that he believed homosexuality is a sin, despite being gay himself, and condemned those who, like Martin, sought to change Church dogma on the issue.

“I don’t understand those Catholics such as...Fr. Martin,” Yiannopoulos said, "who imply that if people don’t like what the Church says, maybe the Church is wrong or should apologize. The Church was founded on a rock and a cross, not on a hug.”

A representative for the publication told Vox on Friday, “We can confirm that an interview with Mr. Yiannopoulus was conducted by one of America’s occasional contributors and was not accepted by America for publication. As a general matter, America does not comment further on editorial decisions about why articles are not accepted for publication.”

Instead, the interview appeared Wednesday at the far-right Catholic website, which republished the interview from Yiannopoulos’s personal blog. The site is associated with a particularly political fringe of Catholicism that sees geopolitics as a battleground between the religious and the faithless.

Yiannopoulos’s interview is significant because of its political undertones within the Catholic world. By republishing his interview with such an extreme outlet Yiannopoulos is branding himself within the fringe of the politicized Catholic right, which is associated with Yiannopoulos’s former boss Steve Bannon. Yiannopoulos, like Bannon, is using his media pulpit to take a stand not only on the so-called “culture wars” of America and Europe, but also on the internal conflicts of the Catholic Church, in which the relatively liberal Pope Francis has come under fire from more conservative cardinals.

Yiannopoulos is adopting Bannon’s apocalyptic Catholic narrative

A running theme of Yiannopoulos’s interview was his irritation with those who, like Martin, sought to liberalize and modernize the Church. Yiannopoulos criticized Pope Francis himself, saying "the current Pope is shocking to many Catholics, including me” for his liberalism, and later adding that the best media advice he could give to Francis would be “stop talking.” By contrast, Yiannopoulos praised Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, as "the wisest and most erudite man in Europe,” celebrating his willingness to "declare publicly that Islam’s irrationalism is one of the world’s great problems” — a reference to a controversial speech Benedict gave in 2006.

Yiannopoulos presented his own homosexuality as a sin. Citing the fourth-century theologian St. Augustine, Yiannopolis said of his sex life, "I’m always joking about my lack of chastity and my fondness for black dudes, but I still call myself Catholic. And I don’t see what’s so shocking about that, either. One of the most famous saints of all time, sixteen centuries ago, prayed, ‘Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.’” While such a perspective certainly lies within an orthodox Catholic understanding of sin — that everyone struggles with sin, but God’s grace allows forgiveness — it’s nevertheless a rare and striking statement from an openly gay individual.

Yiannopoulos later added: "You don’t see me disputing the Church’s teachings on homosexuality…I wouldn’t dream of demanding that the Church throw away her hard truths just to lie to me in hopes I’ll feel better about myself...I feel there’s something wrong with the fact that my lovemaking can’t produce the mini-Milo’s I’d like to have. How’s that for a subjective confirmation of the Church teaching that same-sex attraction is ‘objectively disordered’ because it can’t lead to procreation?" Yiannopoulos also tied his famously combative public persona into his Catholic faith, saying “The truth often hurts, as the Church has always understood. That’s one reason she so often shows us a Man in agony on a cross.”

Throughout his interview, Yiannopoulos presented both the rise of Islam and the proliferation of secularism, feminism, and “political correctness” as equally serious causes of what he called “the decline of our civilization.” In so doing, Yiannopoulos is taking a page out of the Bannon playbook, linking, say, Twitter flamewars over Gamergate or political discourse about religious pluralism to a cosmic battle between good and evil; an apocalyptic clash of civilizations.

Back in 2014, for example, Bannon gave a controversial 2014 speech via Skype to the Vatican saying “We’re in the beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict...[if the church does not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”

To a degree, Yiannopoulos’s embrace of his Catholic identity can be seen as self-serving. He does, after all, link to a blog by a colleague who compares him, largely unironically, to Jesus. Quoting extensively from early 20th-century English Catholic writers like Evelyn Waugh (who was likely bisexual) and G.K. Chesterton, Yiannopoulos (who is English) is leaning heavily into a very particular English arch-conservative cultural stereotype: the mannered aristocratic gay Catholic you might find in, for example, Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. His references, from historian Hilaire Belloc to Catholic convert and Oxford theologian John Henry Newman, seem calculated to keep him within that cultural space. In that world, Yiannopoulos’s sexuality is hardly “shocking” — a point he himself makes — but rather fits neatly into time-honored stereotype.

If Yiannopoulos does brand himself that way successfully, he’ll be joining another similarly conservative Catholic (though heterosexual) Englishman who has been rising on the tide of populist favor precisely because he, too, plays into that cultural space. Conservative Member of Parliament Jacob-Rees Mogg, who is now being tapped for Conservative Party Leader, was once seen as unelectable by his own party for his stringent Catholic views on abortion, his opposition to “political correctness,” and his unapologetic elitism (he named his sixth child Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher Rees-Mogg). Rees-Mogg and Yiannopoulos alike have managed to capitalize on a particular Catholic aesthetic: their brazenly “counter-cultural” worldview now come across not outdated or fusty but “brave” and “authentic.”

But if Yiannopoulos is totally sincere about his right-wing Catholicism — a rarity for a man sincere about so little else — that might prove more unsettling still. If he can combine Steve Bannon’s apocalyptic worldview with his ability to manipulate the thoroughly temporal worlds of Twitter and college campuses alike, he might prove almost as dangerous as he wants us to think he is.