Breitbart’s Man in Rome: A Gentle Voice in a Strident Chorus: Thomas Williams, a former priest, is the Rome bureau chief for Breitbart News

Breitbart’s Man in Rome: A Gentle Voice in a Strident Chorus: Thomas Williams, a former priest, is the Rome bureau chief for Breitbart News

[TV personality and moral theology professor, Fr. Thomas Williams, L.C.]

[The happy couple, Mrs. and Mr. Elizabeth Lev (aka Thomas Williams)]

[Hat-tip to the National un-Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Williams: “At the New York Times, a profile of ‘Breitbart’s Man in Rome,’ now-Mr., formerly Rev., Thomas Williams. He used to be Fr. Marcial Maciel’s man in Rome, and Maciel was a different kind of fraud from Steve Bannon, but Williams is a polyglot and switching tongues is harder than switching the essential character needed to represent frauds: A shill is a shill is a shill in any language. His comment about his defense of Maciel – ‘I thought he was innocent. I was wrong'”- and Mr. Williams’ ability to keep people sufficiently interested to merit a NYTimes profile puts me in mind of what was once said of Gladstone: ‘He could convince others of many thing, and himself of anything at all.’ It gives one pause before accepting his comment that he never witnessed a whiff of racism from Bannon.”]

JANUARY 10, 2017

ROME — Rushing to meet his wife at St. Peter’s Square, Thomas Williams walked past priests in black cassocks and said that the only thing he missed from his own decades of wearing a priest’s collar was “a real sense of helping people very directly.”

He paused and added, “I’m sure I’m helping people in some way.”

Mr. Williams’s current mission, since 2014, is in the service of Breitbart News, the populist, right-wing website that backed Donald J. Trump in his run for the presidency and is popular with the alt-right, an extremist and often xenophobic movement that embraces white nationalism.

The website is now hoping to buoy Europe’s surging anti-immigrant parties by spreading into Germany and France. But for years, Breitbart has had a presence in London, Jerusalem and Rome, which is perhaps most important for its imagining of itself as an expanding empire with a foothold in the ancestral home of the Crusades.

To man the fort in Rome, Stephen K. Bannon, then Breitbart’s chief executive and now Mr. Trump’s chief White House strategist, turned to Mr. Williams, a telegenic and polyglot theologian who had spoken for the Vatican and defended the leader of his conservative religious order against accusations of child molestation (ultimately proved true). Mr. Williams himself then left the priesthood in disgrace when it emerged that he had broken his vows of celibacy and fathered a son.

“You know my history,” Mr. Williams, 54, said, referring to a past worthy of its own Breitbart headline. “I was looking to re-establish myself again.”

He has done so by documenting the illegal immigration inundating Italy’s shores; tracking the country’s ascending anti-establishment movement; monitoring the religious persecution of Christians; and focusing on the Catholic hierarchy’s conservative reaction to Pope Francis.

Yet Mr. Williams, amiable and soft-spoken, seems a discordantly gentle voice in the strident Breitbart chorus.

He said his time in the public eye had made him extra sensitive to inflicting harm and he lamented the “horrible” Breitbart commenters. Referring to the laptop computer on his dining room table, he noted, with a hint of sarcasm, that his home office — where he keeps a reliquary of bone chips of Dominican saints and framed photographs of Pope Benedict XVI smiling with his mother-in-law, a former United States ambassador to the Holy See — was “pretty nondescript for a subversive, alt-right, world-changing organization.”

From the beginning of his talks with Mr. Bannon, he said, Mr. Williams had expressed wariness about the website’s tone.

“Breitbart seemed like the exact opposite of everything I had been trained for and naturally tended towards,” the former priest said. “Which was help people understand each other, smooth over differences, show maybe you are not as far apart as you think.”

Mr. Williams had first met Mr. Bannon in 2003 through a mutual friend who was producing Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” on which Mr. Williams worked as the theological consultant. (“Mostly just to say things like, ‘You can’t do that,’” Mr. Williams said.)

“I thought he was a little crazy,” Mr. Williams said of Mr. Bannon. “I knew he was in this media stuff and he had all these theories about everything.”

At the time, Mr. Williams was the face of the conservative Legion of Christ religious order. In 1997, Mr. Williams helped found the conservative Legion-sponsored Zenit news agency, and he has written 15 books, including “Knowing Right From Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience.”

Traveling in rarefied American church circles, he met Mary Ann Glendon, a prominent lawyer who, since 2013, has sat on a pontifical commission appointed by Pope Francis to investigate the Vatican Bank. She introduced Mr. Williams to her daughter, the Vatican art historian Elizabeth Lev. In 2003, Ms. Lev gave birth to Mr. Williams’s son, but kept her child’s paternity secret.

In the meantime, Mr. Williams became the go-to priest for Vatican analysis on American television and defended the leader of his order, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, from accusations of child molestation.

Pope Benedict forced Father Maciel to leave public ministry in 2006, and after the priest died in 2008, it was shown he fathered several children, and abused drugs and children. (“I thought he was innocent,” Mr. Williams said quietly, adding: “I was wrong.”)

In 2012, Mr. Williams acknowledged a news report that revealed his secret life and that he had fathered a child. He refused to identify the mother, apologized and went home to Michigan, where he said he “just kind of hid.”

A year later, Mr. Williams left the priesthood and returned to Rome to marry Ms. Lev and raise their son, who has Down syndrome. The three now live with Ms. Lev’s two adult daughters from a previous relationship.

Mr. Williams speaks adoringly of his son and accompanies him to therapy. He said he was “thrilled” to have his mother-in-law visiting for the holidays. He paints Roman street scenes for his wife and expresses appreciation for a “full life.”

But the circumstances of his leaving the priesthood had left him without an outlet for his considerable Vatican experience and academic expertise. That is when Mr. Bannon, seeking a presence for his website in a foundational spot of Judeo-Christian culture, came calling.

“Culture moves politics,” Mr. Williams said Mr. Bannon told him when pitching him to take the job three years ago. “Politics doesn’t move culture.”

Mr. Bannon, less than interested in food and fashion, often came to Rome to discuss the project.

“Eating with him is no fun,” said Mr. Williams, who wears a lapel pin that identifies him as a certified sommelier. At restaurants, Mr. Bannon paid no attention to what he ate and wore “a sport jacket with the cargo pants. It just looks silly, especially for Italians who care.”

But Mr. Williams said he was deeply impressed by Mr. Bannon and had never seen any evidence of his harboring racist or anti-Semitic views.

“The only place you could find anti anything is definitely toward Islam, there is some animus there,” Mr. Williams said, adding that he shared Mr. Bannon’s reservations about assimilating Muslims. He participated in a 2014 Vatican event where Mr. Bannon argued that the “church militant” needed to unite against secularization and an Islamic fascism “that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”

On other issues, however, there was considerable distance between Breitbart and its correspondent in Rome.

Mr. Williams was far less skeptical about European unity and the euro than the Breitbart line, which he called “obviously pushing this populism and very much anti-European.”

As Mr. Bannon began championing Mr. Trump as a way to blow up the establishment, Mr. Williams said he challenged his boss, telling him, “If you are going to tear down, you better know what you are building.” He added, “But I think he prefers tearing down to building up, honestly.”

When it came to immigration, Mr. Williams said he considered the symbol of a wall between the United States and Mexico “terrible” and fell in the middle between Mr. Trump’s hard-line position and the advocating of building bridges by Pope Francis, of whom he spoke respectfully.

Mr. Williams said that while his editors didn’t meddle in his coverage of the pope, they pressed for stories highly sympathetic to opponents of Pope Francis in the Vatican, especially the vocal Cardinal Raymond Burke, a friend of Mr. Bannon whom Pope Francis stripped of power.

Generally, Mr. Williams said, Breitbart considered Pope Francis a challenge. “Challenging in the sense that they don’t love the guy,” he said, adding that Mr. Bannon, who declined to comment, was “suspicious” of Francis.

Mr. Williams now dresses in a sports coat and jeans instead of clerical attire, but he still seemed entirely comfortable in the Vatican as he arrived at St. Peter’s Square to meet his wife. While he posed for a photograph, she considered how she liked being married to Breitbart’s man in Rome.

“I’m the wife of Thomas Williams,” Ms. Lev said with a smile. “And I love that.”

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10 comments on “Breitbart’s Man in Rome: A Gentle Voice in a Strident Chorus: Thomas Williams, a former priest, is the Rome bureau chief for Breitbart News

  1. [Ann Barnhardt’s unvarnished version of the affair, laicization and marriage from Antipope Bergoglio’s Next Angle of Attack: Priestly Celibacy]

    … I am reminded of the uber-sleazy minor celebrity priest who carried on openly with his trashy, yet politically connected concubine (amongst many others) in Rome, even fathering a child with her, and always tending bar at all of her house parties [Mr. Williams describes himself as a “certified sommelier” (wine steward) on his website – AQ moderator Tom]. Well, finally actual, believing Catholics had seen enough of this deplorable scandal, assembled a dossier and gave the priest an ultimatum: either come clean or we will publicly expose you, but either way, this stops.

    So, the priest called all of his contacts in the media, got himself a job lined up, and then scheduled the wedding. It was quite an event, the bride wore a designer gown – snow white, of course, because what else would a middle-aged woman who had birthed three children, two to married men and one by a priest whom she carried on with openly for over a decade, wear? But wait, it gets so much worse. This priest and his concubine then joined a wedding gift website service and solicited CASH GIFTS for their wedding, posting pictures of themselves in romantic poses. But wait, just when you thought the depths of mathematically unquantifiable trashiness had been plumbed, it gets so much worse. The sacrilegious couple ordered custom party favors for their wedding reception – corkscrews (yes, a phallic symbol) with “Love Conquers All” custom inscribed on them in Latin. Yes, love “conquers all”, in the case of this couple the “conquered all” being Jesus Christ, His Holy Church, and vows made there to, apparently. BUT WAIT. I haven’t told you worst part yet. This sacrilegious couple did ALL OF THIS while the priest was still a priest – the laicization didn’t come through until a few days before the wedding – the bride/concubine’s very politically connected mother [Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard law professor, former US Ambassador to the Vatican, and member at one time or another of various Vatican agencies – AQ moderator Tom], was dispatched in a frenzy to “get the papers signed” inside of one week of the wedding. Stop and think about that. Can these people TRULY have been sorry for what they had done, and their years of mortal sin, if they did all of the things recounted above BEFORE THE PRIEST WAS EVEN LAICIZED? …

  2. So the NYT uses an ordained cleric-turned-adulteress-chaser to “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” for their own voluble hatred for all things Bannon (about whom it has yet to get around to writing that he is suspected, according to North Korean sources, of drowning kittens and guffawing at a cocktail party about Bruce Jenner?)

    I’m shocked! I’ll have to write Pinch Sulzberger to let him know that chicanery is afoot inside his operation. I’ll bet he’ll be shocked, as well!

    Great googly moogly! What is journalism coming to, these days?

  3. Why didn’t Annie name Tom and Liz? I almost couldn’t believe it, but then I found this. The tie point is Liz’ two daughters “from past relationships.”
    Disgraced US cleric to wed daughter of Pope Francis’ highest-ranking female adviser after fathering her child and resigning priesthood
    Dec 2013
    Former clergyman Thomas Williams will walk down the aisle with the daughter of former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon – one of Pope Francis’ top advisers.
    Lev is an American-born art historian who has lived and worked in Rome since 1997. She has two other children from past relationships.
    From the article:

    In good company: Lev, center, is pictured with director Opie Taylor (right) and his film crew during the shooting of ‘Angels and Demons’ in Rome

  4. Liz Liv worked at Zenit (Maciel cult), and mother Mary Ann Glendon supported LC/RC.
    Long after the abuse allegations became public, Maciel, the Legionaries of Christ, and Regnum Christi continued to enjoy support from many conservative leaders and celebrities, who spoke at conferences, assisted in fundraising efforts, etc. They include Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush, Mel Gibson, William Bennett, George Weigel, Mary Ann Glendon, Carlos Slim and the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus.

    Mary Ann Glendon during her talk at the Legion’s Regina Apostolorum in Rome, March 24, 2011.
    Glendon was a longtime supporter of Maciel, even after accusations surfaced.


    [AND THIS SURPRISE from the same page]

    Mel Gibson, speaker at Regnum Christi’s “Youth and Family Encounter,” Chicago, 2003.


  5. I recall Glendon being touted as a “solid” conservative in the days of Santo Subito.

    • I recall Canon Hesse stating that the opie dopies were the “real” power behind the throne during V2 and ever since. “He who has the gold rules.”

      That was confirmed in the Ambrosia Bank fiasco.

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