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I met Thomas Williams a decade ago, when he first joined CBS News (after years at NBC) as a Vatican commentator and analyst. (His telegenic good looks prompted Katie Couric to refer to him cheekily as “Father What-A-Waste.”) Now a layman, with a family in Rome, he’s embarked on a new career, reporting for Breitbart.
The New York Times caught up with him:
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.
Read more. The curious can learn more and see some of Thomas Williams’ television appearances on his website.
Photo: CBS News