Bernie Sanders attacks capitalism during trip to Vatican
Angelo Carconi, EPA
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders leaves the Vatican after the more
VATICAN CITY — Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders took a break from campaigning Friday to travel to the Vatican and issue a scathing attack on capitalism.
He also greeted small, enthusiastic crowds of both U.S. expats and Italians here.
Sanders quoted Pope Leo XIII, referring to the “enormous wealth of a few as opposed to the poverty of the many,” speaking as an invitee at a special conference called “The Urgency of a Moral Economy” held at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Sanders said the situation had only worsened since Pope Leo XIII died 113 years ago.
“At a time when so few have so much and so many have so little, we should reject the foundations of this contemporary economy as immoral and unsustainable,” said Sanders, who left for Rome on a charted Delta flight just hours after debating rival Hillary Clinton ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic party primary in New York.
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Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa were also among those speaking at the conference. Pope Francis did not attend, and the Vatican ruled out Sanders being granted a formal audience with the pontiff. But there was still speculation the two men might meet informally, particularly if Sanders stays overnight or rests before his return flight in the Casa Santa Maria, where Francis lives.
Both Sanders and Pope Francis are vocal critics of economic inequality: One social media meme circulating in recent days listed a series of statements on the topic and challenged readers to guess which of the two men made the statement.
The small American community in Rome was enthusiastic about the visit. Sanders beat Clinton by more than a 2-to-1 margin in Italy during the March 1 Democrats Abroad primary, and a few dozen were at the Vatican to voice support for Sanders. The Twitter hashtag #RomeIsBerning was trending Friday in Italy.
“I’m so excited Bernie made this trip,” said Cindy Sanders, a 44-year-old Cincinnati native who helps run semester-abroad programs in Rome. “Pope Francis and Bernie Sanders are the two strongest voices challenging the world’s broken economic system.”
David Acker, a 23-year-old New Yorker spending time in Italy, agreed: “I already voted for Bernie in the New York primary as an absentee voter, and I’m very happy to have a reason to wear my ‘Bernie 2016’ T-shirt here in Rome.”
Sanders’ trip was criticized in some circles in the U.S. as opportunistic.
It is unusual for a candidate to leave the country in the heat of campaign season, but Sanders said he could not pass up an invitation to the conference and a chance to voice his respect for the pontiff.
“I know (the trip) is taking me away from the campaign trail for a day, but when I received this invitation it was so moving I could not refuse to attend,” Sanders told reporters at the Vatican. “I have been enormously impressed by Pope Francis speaking out and his visionary views about creating a moral economy that works for all people and not just the people on top.”
Sanders is popular in Italy, where — as in most of Europe — his economic and social views are mainstream. He was greeted by applause from a mostly Italian crowd when he left the Vatican, and the visit attracted wide attention from Italian media. Sanders stopped several times to shake hands, and he smiled broadly and waved when a woman in a crowd shouted, “We love you, Bernie!”
During Francis’ three-year papacy, scores of figures have sought at least his implicit endorsement, ranging from Russell Crowe, who pushed for comment from the pontiff comment on the actor’s 2014 Biblical dramaNoah, to former Israeli President Shimon Peres, who sought Francis’ support for the creation of a kind of United Nations of religions. In both of those cases, Francis demurred.