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Bernie Sanders traveled to the Vatican for a conference over the weekend, where he delivered a speech on “the morality of our economic life” at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. While the entire visit lasted approximately 24 hours, it included a very brief yet highly anticipated meeting with Pope Francis on Saturday.
Sanders, an outspoken enthusiast of Pope Francis, was reportedly invited to the conference for citing similar ideologies and values to the Pope in his campaign on multiple occasions, stated Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the Academy’s Chancellor. In the past Sanders had praised Pope Francis for being “radical” and speaking out against injustices. He has praised the Catholic Church for its economic views, stating that “there are few places in modern thought that rival the depth and insight of the Church’s moral teachings on the market economy.”
The visit, however, was not devoid of criticism as it occurred just days before the critical Tuesday primary in New York. There has been speculation that Sanders requested that he be invited to the conference in order to push the Pope into his own political agenda. The Sanders campaign asserted that there was no political motivation behind the visit, and that it was purely to spread the word on economic injustices in the world.
A broad overview of the criticism Sanders received would of course not be complete without mention of a crack from fellow presidential candidate Donald Trump, who suggested that “[a short meeting with the Pope] sounds like ‘Try and get me in to see him so I don’t get myself embarrassed before I come back to New York.’”
Trump’s plethora of absurd quotes generally is not deserving of a second thought, but in this case should the trip to the Vatican warrant criticism, given its close proximity to the New York primary? There has been much speculation about whether Sanders made the trip simply in order to gain more Catholic votes, given that he has struggled in the overwhelmingly Catholic Northeastern states. Questions have risen about exactly how useful the trip actually was for the Sanders campaign – after all, his speech was only 15 minutes long, and addressed a room full of people in a foreign country who don’t even have the option of voting for him. Furthermore, taking time away from his campaign during such a crucial time leaves voters questioning how committed Sanders really is to the job.
On the surface, it appears as though Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are in similar positions right before the New York primary; Clinton also stepped away from her immediate campaigning responsibilities over the weekend – While Sanders was shaking hands with the Pope, Clinton was attending a fundraiser for the Democratic party at the residence of George Clooney. Both candidates have strong ties to the state of New York; Sanders was born and raised in Brooklyn and Clinton currently resides just north of New York City. Brooklyn is home to the respective campaign headquarters of both candidates.
The defining difference in the two candidates’ campaign interruptions is that Sanders absolutely needs to perform well in the Tuesday primary in order to continue challenging Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Sanders reportedly planned to hit the ground running with his campaigning after returning from the Vatican on Saturday night, but it may prove to be too little too late. Clinton, who served as a New York senator for eight years, was favored in the 2008 presidential primary, and currently Sanders trails behind her by 13 percentage points with “no sign that he’s closing the gap.” If the past is any indication of what is to come, then the projected results do not look favorable for Sanders. Many election analysts say that it’s nearly impossible for Sanders to even tie Clinton in “pledged delegates.”
Additionally, the state of New York operates under what is known as a “closed primary system” in which only those who are registered as either Democrats or Republicans can cast their ballots on Tuesday. It’s a system that will likely prove to be less forgiving of an anti-establishment candidate like Bernie Sanders.
Even if Sanders isn’t likely to take New York in the primary on Tuesday, his decision to travel to the Vatican may not have been all detrimental. The trip certainly gave Sanders, a candidate who has been continuously criticized for his lack of all things international, a brief spot on the world stage at the conference where he fraternized with the Pope, priests, bishops and even two South American presidents – even if only for a moment. It’s entirely possible that Sanders is looking forward and preparing for his future worldly role, should he not gain the Democratic nomination. US News stated that Sanders and Pope Francis are anticipating a “revolution in political, economic and religious doctrine.”
All speculation aside, of course the results of the election are not yet set in stone by any means. When confronted with his numbers that trail behind Clinton’s, Sanders has cited his upset win in Michigan on March 8, in which he was initially trailing by 25 points.
It’s possible that Bernie Sanders may never become the president of the United States, but if one thing’s for certain, he’s a man with a revolutionary plan. And in the words of Jeff Weaver, the Sanders campaign manager, “Some things are more important than politics. When you get invited by the Vatican, I think you go.”
Photo courtesy of The Nation