Trisulti on Trial — Again

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by Kristine Christlieb  •  •  October 20, 2020   

Five for five victories in 20 months

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ROME ( - A Catholic organization in Italy under fire by leftists is emerging from a court battle to fight another day.

Benjamin Harnwell's Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI) and Steve Bannon's Academy for the Judeo-Christian West racked up another court victory on Thursday, but the battle for Italy's Trisulti Abbey grinds on.

Benjamin Harnwell

In a closed Court of Appeal hearing, the Italian Ministry of Culture sought and failed to have DHI immediately evicted from the historic property. 

"I'm awaiting further details on [Thursday's] hearing from the lawyers, but they were very happy," Harnwell told Church Militant.

The Ministry of Culture was trying to overturn the Regional Administrative Court's ruling in May, which found the tender [a property management agreement] to be validly executed. This latest attempt has failed and is seen as a precursor of the court's ultimate decision in February 2021, which will be a public "discussion of merit" hearing. 

Harnwell is optimistic. 

"How the court of appeal decides on a provisional suspension is often seen by commentators to be an indicator of how it sees the general case and its eventual verdict," Harnwell wrote in a statement to Church Militant. 

To be honest, it was a total humiliation for the government.

"The Ministry of Culture made a long list of outrageous lies when it tried to illegitimately annul our lease, and it is no wonder that the Regional Administrative Court had little problem rejecting the Ministry's politically motivated pretexts," Harnwell continued.

"They said that the DHI did not have the experience to participate in the tender, indeed that we made fraudulent statements when doing so — that we needed to have had a certain legal status 'on pain of exclusion,'" said Harnwell. "All these things were not true, as affirmed by the Administrative court. To be honest, it was a total humiliation for the government."

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DHI announced in February 2019 the successfully negotiated lease agreement to occupy Trisulti Abbey. Almost immediately, there were allegations of irregularities in the lease. 

In seeking to manage Trisulti, DHI was actually doing the Italian government and the Ministry of Culture a favor. The abbey was one of more than 13 properties the ministry — strapped for cash — was offering at tender to organizations who would agree to turn the historic sites into functioning facilities. 

Steve Bannon

But when it became known that the DHI lease was associated with Steve Bannon, objections from a variety of quarters emerged, and the legal challenges began.

The costs associated with these challenges are significant. In an earlier communication with Church Militant, Harnwell gave an assessment.

"It is a huge financial and time commitment to engage in these year-long legal battles because we can't focus on anything else while it's going on," he said. "But I can't describe the exquisite satisfaction of wiping the stupid grin off of their sanctimonious faces every time we win. It makes it all deliciously worthwhile."

While Harnwell is battling in Italian court, Bannon is facing his own set of legal problems. The global political activist was arrested in August and charged with fraud in connection with his Build the Wall Campaign. 

This is real David vs. Goliath stuff.

Without skipping a beat, Bannon pled not guilty and returned to producing and hosting his daily podcast War Room: Pandemic. 

Harnwell admits that he had hoped Thursday's hearing would put an end to the legal wrangling. But he is clinging to his record.

"We have now clocked five legal victories out of five," Harnwell said. "The real reason the government is trying to suppress us is that they have no answer to our arguments, which have great resonance with the Italian people."

"So far, this has been the Academy for the Judeo-Christian West's first great lesson to the world: You can fight all the massed forces of a corrupt and venal political class, with few resources against their unlimited access to taxpayers' money, and still win by the grace of God," he said. "This is real David vs. Goliath stuff."

In past communication, Harnwell told Church Militant, "The Left can do whatever they want, in whatever legal arena they care to choose. We will be ready to fight them, and we will win."

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