Bernie Sanders and the Pope

Ever since the Bernie Sanders was invited to speak at the conference at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, held at the Vatican City, a swirl of conspiracy theories and blatant misreporting of the news came out in media.

Firstly, the media outlets got the initial reporting wrong mostly because Sanders relayed the news of the invitation incorrectly (I will get to that later). Sanders and his campaign said the Pope invited Sanders to speak at the conference. The Pope himself didn’t invite Sanders. The organizer of the conference bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo invited Sanders, the conference happens to take place in Vatican City, the epicenter of Catholic Church. Not everything that goes on in the Vatican City is sponsored or attended by the Pope himself. However, Bishop Sorondo allegedly didn’t go through the president of the Pontifical Academy (in the US) Margaret Archer to extend the invitation to Sanders, as protocol would dictate. Archer, without checking her facts with her counterparts in the Vatican, said Sanders committed a “monumental discourtesy” by not going through her office before accepting the invitation and accused Sanders of inviting himself. Archer’s statement to the press through a telephone interview was: “Sanders made the first move, for the obvious reasons, he may be going for the Catholic vote but this is not the Catholic vote and he should remember that and act accordingly — not that he will.”

After this statement was made to the press, the anti-Sanders brigade started mocking Sanders for ‘inviting’ himself to a party where he’s not wanted. But within 24 hours, Bishop Sorondo clarified that he did indeed invite Sanders and that Margaret Archer was perfectly aware of this invitation, saying her comments were a bit “strange” – basically accusing her of lying. Bernie Sanders, not being Catholic himself, isn’t one-hundred percent sure on how the Vatican City and Catholic politics works. Many Catholics have a vague idea of how all this works and are better initiated than those who aren’t Catholics. He told MSNBC and The View that “the Vatican” invited him to speak at the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and that the invitation came from the Pope. Some immediately accused him misrepresenting the facts and pandering to the Catholics, which accounts for 25% of Americans.

The Vatican City has a religious body which deal with religious matters and a political body which deal with diplomatic matters and politics with leaders around the world. Within that there are organizations which exist in the purview of the Vatican City that are not affiliated to either governing bodies, such as the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. The invitation came from a bishop of the Catholic church, the ‘boss’ of the bishop is the Pope and Bishop Sorondo is another fellow Argentine like the Pope and is close with the Pope as well, so naturally Sanders assumed the invitation came from the Vatican City and the Pope himself. Sanders reportedly said the Pope himself have arranged a meeting with him for the less than 24 hours Sanders will spend in the Vatican. Sanders didn’t say a meeting with the Pope was already prearranged, he said he would like to meet the Pope, but the chances are probably slim as the Pope is leaving for Lesbos the next day to address the refugee crisis. The Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said “There won’t be a meeting with the Holy Father,” the Pope was not planning on meeting with anyone from the conference as it was right before his trip to Greece. The point being made here is, you get invited to the Vatican at their leisure. This isn’t an Upper East Side charity event where if you know the right people you can get yourself an invitation to rub shoulders with important people and drink nice champagne for a night.

The invitation from Bishop Sorondo Bernie Sanders is an interesting one. The obvious being Bernie Sanders isn’t Catholic – he’s Jewish, he’s pro-choice and pro-LGBT rights, positions directly against the doctrine of the church. With all of the arm flailing, Bible beating Christians from the Republican side, not one of them has been asked to go near the Vatican. Hillary Clinton being a Christian herself, wasn’t asked either. Being a Catholic doesn’t guarantee an invitation either, as the church has expressed its displeasure and scorn at Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.

What Sanders does have in common with the current agenda of the Pope is alleviation of suffering for the dispossessed people of the world. Capitalism has gotten out of control. Rampant and unfettered greed and market speculation of the last twenty years have destroyed the economy for many. The Pope has dedicated his papacy to shining the attention on the downtrodden, the poor, the persecuted and dispossessed. He wanted to turn the church’s obsession with dogma, doctrine, finger wagging and focus the spotlight on those who need help, mercy and kindness first. If the Pope’s message were turned into a political campaign, parts of it would mirror Sanders’s political revolution very closely.

But to compare Sanders and Pope Francis I is like comparing apples and oranges. Religious differences aside, they are chalk and cheese. They agree on issues of social justice, creating a moral economy and curbing climate change but on everything else, they are in opposing extremes.

Many mistake Pope Francis I for who he really is and what he’s about. Francis preaches tolerance, mercy and love for the people who the Catholic church has marginalized and expelled (divorcees, LGBT community, women who’ve had abortions and non-observant Catholics) but it doesn’t mean he’s changed his mind on these matters. He asked for reintegration of divorcees into the church but he falls short of saying they can receive communion or that divorce is just an unpleasant fact of life sometimes, we don’t like it but it’s no longer a sin. He preaches tolerance of of LGBT community and to show love to them and if they follow the path of Jesus “who are [we] to judge” but he falls short of saying being LGBT isn’t a sin. There is still a stigma attached to women who have had abortions even though he asks his church to be merciful and forgiving towards them. He still, to the detriment of the impoverished developing and third world countries in the world, preaches against the use of contraceptives unless in extreme cases like preventing the spread of diseases. In short, he is as every bit as conservative as his predecessors, he just says it all with a bright smile and a joke. Francis I has perhaps widened the margins of what’s acceptable to the church but the church will not change its positions on any of these issues soon, if ever. The institution itself doesn’t believe in changing its doctrine just to suit the times. They don’t care that over 95% of observant Catholic women have at one time or another used contraceptives in their childbearing years and so they should do away with that ridiculous doctrine as no one observes it anyways. Or that divorce is a part of life and as long as sufficient effort was made to salvage the marriage, divorcees should still be part of the congregation. Or that being LGBT isn’t a choice but sexual orientation and gender identity is predetermined so to call them sinful is counterintuitive to the teachings of the Bible – none of these scenarios will happen.

Francis I still idolizes the role of mother. He’s still speaks of women in a patronizing manner, as a great importance to the church but only in a supporting and nurturing role. Nuns and laywomen defer to priests. The activities of nuns are to be watched over like a hawk by their male superiors. He did little to quash the ‘feminist conspiracy’ rumors in the Catholic sisterhood propagated by his paranoid cardinals and bishops. The Catholic clergy, most of whom have never lived in the real world where they had to keep a roof over their heads, children fed and navigate a marriage, but they see fit to tell us how to do all of these things. Francis I appears to make the church more liberal and open, but it’s only nominally. He’s opening the door to allow re-entry to those that left or wish to join you can sit with us but you are still not part of the club.

Bernie Sanders is the opposite of all of this. Sanders’s respect for the Pope only extends to social justice issues, issues relating to creating a fair and balanced economy and caring for the downtrodden. On issues of morality, Sanders takes a secular approach, which again is a striking contrast to the church.

In the end, Sanders did get to meet the Pope, at the Pope’s leisure. For those that don’t know, you don’t make an appointment to see the Pope, the Pope asks to see you, you make yourself available for him, should you be inclined. After all the commotion around the “invitation” or non-invitation, the Pope, in his typical candor, said meeting with Senator Sanders was nothing more than “good manners”.

“This morning when I left, Sen. Sanders was there. … He knew I was leaving at that time and I had the kindness to greet him and his wife and another couple who were with them,” the pope told reporters traveling back with him to the Vatican.

“When I came down, I greeted them, shook their hands and nothing more. This is good manners. It’s called good manners and not getting mixed up in politics. If anyone thinks that greeting someone means getting involved in politics, they should see a psychiatrist.”

As for the charge that Sanders is after the Catholic vote – the ‘Catholic vote’, like all other voting blocs are not a monolith and is very diverse. He’s running for election for the highest office of the land, so presumably, any votes from any voting bloc would be welcome.

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