Steve Bannon. Picture: REUTERS
Steve Bannon. Picture: REUTERS

Rome — Pope Francis should not resign over allegations he mishandled a sexual abuse scandal, said Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former political strategist who is close to prominent Catholic conservatives.

However, Bannon told Reuters he was working on setting up an independent, non-partisan tribunal to investigate decades of scandals within the US Church, warning that dioceses across the country faced financial ruin because of the wrongdoing.

In a statement that stunned the Church, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano said in August that Pope Francis should stand down for allegedly covering up for a former US cardinal who was accused of sexually molesting children and adult seminarians.

Some media saw the hands of conservative critics of Pope Francis behind the unprecedented attack on a living pope, including US Cardinal Raymond Burke, who is close to Bannon.

Burke told reporters in Rome last week that he was "deeply shaken" by Vigano’s accusations and called for an investigation.

But Bannon, himself a Catholic, clearly distanced himself from Vigano, saying a papal resignation was not appropriate.

"This is as serious as it gets. We can’t have memos and letters and accusations. The pope is from an unbroken chain, the Vicar of Christ on Earth. You don’t just sit there and say ‘I think you should resign’," said Bannon during a visit to Rome.

Instead, he said an independent tribunal had to be created to look into every aspect of the multiplying scandals. "Until we do that, I don’t think people should be snapping to judgments. This is so serious. This is an existential threat to the heart of the institution of the Catholic Church. It is not about doctrine or dogma of the Church."

Pope Francis has refused to comment on Vigano’s attack, which was the latest blow to the credibility of the Church.

In August, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released the findings of the largest investigation of sex abuse in the US Catholic Church, finding that 301 priests in the state had sexually abused minors over the past 70 years. Other US states have also launched wide-ranging investigations of their own.