Far-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney were among participants in a secret meeting of far-right Catholic politicians this weekend at the Fátima Marian shrine.

Driving the news

Portuguese newspaper Público reported on the secretive meeting in Portugal of the International Catholic Legislators Network (ICLN).

The ICLN bills itself as an “independent and non-partisan international initiative to bring together practicing Catholics and other Christians in elected office on a regular basis for faith formation, education and fellowship”.

But the full list of attendees and the agenda at the ICLN meeting that ran from Thursday to Sunday has been kept in the strictest confidentiality.

The ICLN website explains that’s so invitees “may freely debate and exchange their thoughts on the topics discussed” at meetings.


The intrigue

The Portuguese paper was able to confirm the names of some other attendees at the event, along with Orbán and Mulvaney.

Those included Hongkonger Cardinal Joseph Zen, who repeatedly criticises Pope Francis for the Vatican’s September 2018 agreement with China.

Zen has also called for the resignation of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin over the agreement, which he maintains is a betrayal of Chinese Catholics.

Along with Zen, other religious figures in attendance also included Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II and Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Yonan.


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Go deeper

The ICLN secrecy on who else was present in Fátima and what they discussed is not the only troubling aspect of the meet.

Público said the event required the deployment of two hundred police personnel.

The operation was funded by the Portuguese State, even though Orbán and Mulvaney and other politicians were in Fátima in a personal capacity.

The Portuguese Foreign Affairs ministry also confirmed to the newspaper that authorities were advised of the politicians’ visit.

That’s despite neither Orbán nor Mulvaney nor any other politician present seeking a meeting with Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa.


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Why it matters

ICLN organisers were careful to point out that after an inauguration Mass in a basilica on Thursday evening, no conference discussions were held at the Fátima shrine itself, one of the worldwide Catholicism’s holiest places.

The conference took place at a nearby hotel instead, the ICLN said.

Still, the far-right pilgrimage still has troubling implications both in terms of the far-right politics it promotes and also for the ultraconservative theology it pushes.

As the ICLN says on its website, politicians’ attendance at its events is by personal invitation only “and presupposes a visible Catholic or otherwise Christian profile that is reflected in the individual voting record and public statements, especially where it regards the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death, the true nature of sacramental marriage as the union between one man and one woman, and the commitment to defend the fundamental freedom of religion and conscience as the prime human right of every man and every woman on every continent”.

Even Pope Francis has expressed his doubts at ICLN’s direction, alerting members in an audience in August last year of the need to build “a more humane and just society”.

Fundamentalism and intolerance in the world “cannot be fought with more fundamentalism and intolerance”, the Pope told ICLN on that occasion.

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