Though it is failing in Italy, former Trump advisor Steve Bannon’s idea of a “gladiator school” for ultra-Catholics is now infecting France.

Driving the news

Marion Maréchal, 30 – scion of the ultraconservative Le Pen family, granddaughter of the founder of the extreme-right National Front (FN) party, Jean-Marie, and niece of the current FN leader, Marine – has founded in Lyon an Institute of Social Sciences, Economics and Politics (ISSEP).

That’s with the goal of forming a new “ruling class” in Europe: “An elite”, she says, “that is intellectually free, patriotic, rooted in a history and a culture, and that is attached in an electoral sense to a balance between the local and the global”.

But it’s also with the aim of combatting from the perspective of the Catholic faith that Maréchal devoutly professes what she calls the ideological activism prevalent in Europe.

“Nothing is missing from the call for political correctness: obsession with race and gender, indigenism, decolonial theories, neo-feminism, immigrationism, LGBTQIAA+, Islamic proselytism”, says the young woman touted as a future rival to current French president Emmanuel Macron.

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Though Maréchal’s ISSEP – a self-described “school of knowledge not ideology” – is taking in students and running courses, the Washington Post found when it was set up in 2018 that as it “is not recognized by the French state, it has no authority to grant official diplomas”.

But that’s not the only problem for the school for ultra-Catholics – the ISSEP’s association with the far-right Breitbart media outlet and ultraconservative Catholic ideologue Steve Bannon may plant the kiss of death on the Institute, especially given that Bannon is trying – and failing – to set up a similar school in Italy.

Bannon and his associate Benjamin Harnwell are currently locked in an intense legal dispute with the Italian government over rights to where that school for ultra-Catholics – run by Bannon and Harnwell’s Dignatitus Humanae Institute (DHI) – was to be based, the thirteenth-century Trisulti monastery outside of Rome.

Why it matters

The Italian government is challenging the DHI’s lease on the Trisulti charterhouse, alleging falsity and forgery on the part of the DHI during the tender process, among other irregularities.

But the Italian government’s problem with the DHI school could also be due to Bannon and Harnwell’s persecution complex that Harnwell again gave voice to in justifying support for Maréchal’s ISSEP.

“In occupied Europe, we are now fighting for the right to be Christian. It’s that simple. If you are an actual believing Catholic (as opposed to simply an ethnic Catholic) you are now thought of as slightly odd. And that’s just by other Catholics…”, Harnwell said.

“I’ll put it like this — in 25 years, what is left of a mainstream presence of Christianity in Europe will have ceased to exist”.

The problem is the other “stars” in Maréchal, Bannon and Harnwell’s ultraconservative European political universe – Matteo Salvini (Italy), Viktor Orbán (Hungary) and Andrzej Duda (Poland) – are hardly models of authentic Catholicism, however much they profess to be ultra-Catholics.

Salvini turns back boats full of refugees rescued in the Mediterranean, Orbán is manipulating persecuted Christians in the world to establish Hungary as a “mafia state of hatred” and Duda is running one of the most aggressive anti-LGBT campaigns in Europe.

That’s despite Pope Francis’ having another idea for Europe all togethernon-populist like Salvini, Orbán and Duda – and his insistence in explaining every chance he gets that being Catholic means welcoming migrants, governing for the common good and showing compassion for people of other affective identities.

Next on Novena:

Novena exclusives from Athens correspondent George Karpouzas:

What do French Catholics fear the most? The far right

‘La Manif pour tous’: the coming-out of French conservatism

More on Bannon in Europe:

Ultra-Catholic Bannon group ordered to vacate Italian monastery under threat of police escort… but granted last-minute reprieve

Italian bishop breathes “sigh of relief” after closure of Bannon far-right, ultra-Catholic “gladiator school”

Italy closes former Trump advisor Bannon’s far-right, ultra-Catholic “gladiator school”

Ultraconservative Cardinal Burke blasts populist Steve Bannon, ‘fake news’ LifeSite

Open Democracy’: Ultraconservative Catholics, other Christians funding European far-right


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.