Pope Francis didn’t attend U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (D-Vt.) speech at the Vatican, but the presidential candidate provided a long reflection on Catholic social teaching, as he saw it.
Sanders spoke Friday at a conference celebrating the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s “Centesimus Annus.” The senator commented:
“With the fall of Communism, Pope John Paul II gave a clarion call for human freedom in its truest sense: freedom that defends the dignity of every person and that is always oriented towards the common good.”
The April 15-16 conference was sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which fosters dialogue between scientists, politicians and various experts.
At the start of the gathering, Archbishop Sanchez Sorondo, the academy’s chancellor, read a letter from the Pope. The letter said he could not make the event. Pope Francis said that his agenda was “quite complicated” because of his Saturday trip to visit migrants and refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Pope Francis’ letter to the gathering did not mention Sen. Sanders or any of the other participants.
John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical marked the anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s “Rerum Novarum,” a major landmark in Catholic social teaching.
“There are few places in modern thought that rival the depth and insight of the Church’s moral teachings on the market economy,” Sanders said in remarks to the conference. He cited Leo XIII’s encyclical that described the challenges of “the enormous wealth of a few opposed to the poverty of the many.”
“At a time when so few have so much, and so many have so little, we must reject the foundations of this contemporary economy as immoral and unsustainable,” Sanders commented.
“We are now twenty-five years after the fall of Communist rule in Eastern Europe. Yet we have to acknowledge that Pope John Paul’s warnings about the excesses of untrammeled finance were deeply prescient.”
The senator cited problems with financial speculation, illegal flow of money, environmental destruction, globalization, financial deregulation, corporate power in politics and weakening rights of workers. He said that “widespread financial criminality on Wall Street” helped cause “the world’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”
Sen. Sanders said that economic consequences for working families have been dire.
He repeatedly cited Pope Francis. “Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules,” he said, citing the Pope’s words against the world’s “new idols.”
“The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal,” the Pope had said.
The senator also cited the Pope’s criticism of ideologies that “uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation,” because this denies States the right to control them for the common good.
Sen. Sanders echoed the Pope’s rejection of “a financial system that rules rather than serves.”
In the face of financial corruption, Sanders said, Pope Francis is an example “against such a surrender to despair and cynicism.”
“He has opened the eyes of the world once again to the claims of mercy, justice and the possibilities of a better world. He is inspiring the world to find a new global consensus for our common home.”
The senator also drew on Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si.”
“The challenges facing our planet are not mainly technological or even financial, because as a world we are rich enough to increase our investments in skills, infrastructure, and technological know-how to meet our needs and to protect the planet,” he said. “Our challenge is mostly a moral one, to redirect our efforts and vision to the common good.”
Sen. Sanders, who is Jewish, is currently battling for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The New York primary election, a major event in the campaign cycle, will take place April 19.
While Sanders applauded parts of Church teaching, some of his beliefs are strongly at odds with Catholic belief.
In his April 14 debate with Clinton, Sanders said he has a “100 percent pro-choice voting record.” He called for increased federal funding for the politically powerful abortion provider Planned Parenthood.
Sanders has also sided with LGBT political causes over religious liberty concerns, vowing to veto “any legislation that purports to ‘protect’ religious liberty at the expense of other’s rights.”