Bernie Sanders is socially liberal and fiscally Catholic.
“I am a big, big fan of the pope,” Sanders told MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday, shortly after announcing that he had been invited to speak at the Vatican next week. “Obviously there are areas where we disagree, on women’s rights, on gay rights. But he has played an unbelievable role of injecting a moral consequence into the economy.”
Sanders went on to applaud Pope Francis for his advocacy on behalf of the dispossessed and his denunciation of the global economy’s “idolatry of money.”
“He’s talking about the idolatry of money. The worship of money,” Sanders said. “The greed that’s out there: how our whole country is based on how ‘I need more and more and more,’ and I don’t have to worry about veterans sleeping out on the street or elderly who can’t afford their prescription drugs.”
This isn’t the first time that Sanders has described the pontiff as if he were an unofficial economic adviser. Back in February, Sanders went so far as to describe Francis as a fellow socialist. Whether or not the pope shares the Vermont senator’s enthusiasm for Eugene Debs, he’s “feeling the Bern” enough to have invited the Jewish presidential candidate to speak at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, during a conference on social, economic, and environmental issues.
Or, at least, he’s enthused enough to have let Bernie invite himself. On Friday afternoon, the president of that Pontifical Academy threw a great oak tree’s worth of shade at the Democratic candidate.
“Sanders made the first move, for the obvious reasons,” Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, told Bloomberg. “I think in a sense 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.”
However, the Sanders campaign vehemently denied Archer’s claim, telling Bloomberg, “Your story is categorically untrue. The invitation came to the senator from the Vatican.”
Late Friday, a senior Vatican official told Reuters that Archer was mistaken. Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo told the news service, “This is not true and she knows it. I invited him with her consensus.”
Sanders will head to Rome immediately after the April 14 Democratic debate in Brooklyn. The senator told the Washington Post that his speech at the Academy will focus on how we can create a “moral economy that works for all” and address the “planetary crisis of climate change.”
One thing Sanders probably won’t be bringing up at the Vatican: Hillary Clinton’s emails. But he did bring them up on Friday’s Morning Joe, in order to make a point about how he never brings them up.
“I’ve been called a protector of the NRA. The Clinton campaign has said that I want to dismember American health care and leave people without Medicaid,” Sanders told the MSNBC hosts, defending his recent attack on Clinton’s qualifications for the presidency. “How often have I talked about Hillary Clinton’s emails? Have you heard me? Not a word. How often have I talked about the Clinton Foundation’s fund-raising? Have you heard me say one word about it during the campaign? To say that I am running a vitriolic campaign … ”
Sanders then asked, “How often have you heard me say, ‘Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster, and I have the photographs to prove it’? Not once!”
Okay. He didn’t ask that last one. And he went on to say that Clinton is “extremely bright,” and that he hopes the primary campaign will move away from personal attacks and back to their differences on the issues. Thursday night on CBS, Sanders reiterated his commitment to support Clinton if she’s the nominee, suggesting that, when he calls her “not qualified” for the presidency, he really means “less qualified than the Jew who’ll be palling around with the pope next week.”
This post has been updated.