Pope Francis and Bernie Sanders met one another Saturday morning, before the pontiff flew to Greece to show solidarity with migrants and the senator flew to New York to renew his campaign for the presidency.
“I told him that I was incredibly appreciative of the incredible role that he is playing in this planet in discussing issues about the need for an economy based on morality, not greed,” said Sanders, who, though he differs with the pope on a number of issues, has hailed the pontiff for repeatedly attempting to focus the global discourse on issues of economic injustice.
The brief encounter at the papal residence, which both the pope and the senator said should not be seen as any kind of political intervention or endorsement, got a good deal of attention. But what mattered more was the purpose that brought Sanders to the Vatican. The Democratic presidential contender took two days away from the campaign trail to speak at a Vatican conference that highlighted concerns about capitalism that have long occupied the church but that Pope Francis brought to the forefront by decrying “an economic system which leads to this tragedy; an economic system which has at its center an idol called money.”
Sanders has made no secret of his regard for the pontiff’s economic analysis. Before leaving the Vatican, he told reporters: “I have been enormously impressed with Pope Francis speaking out and his visionary views about creating a moral economy, an economy that works for all people, not just the people on top.”
Hailing Pope Francis for saying “over and over again: ‘We cannot allow the market just to do what the market does, that is not acceptable,’” Sanders used his talk at the Vatican to amplify the argument that an economy that allows “unfettered capitalism” to define its direction and outcomes is “immoral and unsustainable.” Sanders placed that argument in historical and contemporary context, referencing Catholic social teachings and concerns about “reckless financial deregulation” and “an unprecedented flow of money into American politics,” and the senator said that in the United States, “Rather than an economy aimed at the common good, we have been left with an economy operated for the top 1 percent, who get richer and richer as the working class, the young, and the poor fall further and further behind.”