15 April 2016
Christopher Lamb in Rome
Bernie Sanders' visit to Rome sparks internal Vatican row
The senator is known to be a fan of the Pope's teaching on the economy
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders will today attend a Vatican-sponsored conference in a visit that has sparked an internal row and concerns about political bias on the part of the Holy See.
The 73-year-old independent senator is generating a head of steam in the race to become the next president of the United States with his brand of populist left-wing politics.
His criticism of the world’s financial system, desire for a “moral economy” and plan to tackle climate change shares much in common with Pope Francis, whom Jewish Sanders has repeatedly praised.
Today the senator is due to deliver a brief talk at an event marking the 25th anniversary of a Catholic social teaching encyclical written by Pope John Paul II that is being hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences.
But his presence at the conference has led to disagreement between the gathering’s organiser and president of the academy, Professor Margaret Archer and Bishop Manuel Sánchez Sorrondo, the academy’s chancellor.
Professor Archer said she was kept out of the loop over Sanders’ visit and told Bloomberg that the senator engineered his own invitation in order to court the Catholic vote.
This was flatly denied by the Argentinian bishop who said he invited Sanders to the event and that it was done with Professor Archer’s “consensus”.
The presidential hopeful’s visit has also rattled the Holy See’s Secretariat of State - the body in charge of Vatican diplomacy - wary of any possible papal endorsement of Sanders. The Holy See works hard to retain a politically neutral position in its dealing with countries, and rarely intervenes in election campaigns.
Earlier this year Vatican diplomats were alarmed when the Pope waded into American politics by criticising Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for wanting to build a wall keeping out migrants on the US-Mexico border.
Francis said anyone wanting do such a thing is “not a Christian” - a remark Trump described as “disgraceful.”
This week, however, the Pope appointed his ambassador in Mexico to the same job in America, a move that will be read as a call for America to do more to welcome migrants into the country.
The Vatican has confirmed that Bernie Sanders will not be meeting Pope Francis during his visit.
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