If Donald Trump has secured his spot as the anti-Francis presidential candidate, following a spat with the Vatican over his proposal to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, Bernie Sanders may very well be the pro-pope candidate.
In an interview with the Canadian Catholic television network Salt + Light that will air Tuesday, Sanders explained why he thinks Pope Francis is a socialist, comes to his defense against detractors who say the pope doesn’t understand poverty, and says that when it comes to abortion, “we just have to disagree.”
Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, said he believes Francis is of the same ilk because the pope “talks about wealth being used to serve people, not as an end in itself.”
“What he has also done is raise the issue of the worship of money, the idolatry of money, and to say maybe that’s not what human life should be about, and that is a very, very radical critique of the hypercapitalist system, world system, that we’re living in today,” he said.
“What the Pope is saying is that human life, our existence, should be more than just the accumulation of more wealth,” he continued. “I agree with that.”
The Rev. Thomas Rosica, who in addition to heading Salt + Light also serves as an assistant to the Vatican press office, conducted the interview in September, the night before Pope Francis arrived in Washington for the start of his US tour.
Rosica pressed Sanders on his support for abortion rights, which the Church opposes.
Sanders said he has many supporters and constituents who do not share his views on abortion, and he asks them to “work together on those issues where we can agree.”
He said some of his “liberal friends” express some ambivalence about Francis because of the Church’s views on abortion and its opposition to same-sex marriage, but he nonetheless praised Francis for lending his voice to issues of poverty.
“It’s not just, ‘Oh, isn’t it important to talk about poor, and the homeless, and the unemployed.’ Yeah it is, but he goes deeper than that,” Sanders said.
“And he talks about how we should not simply be spending our lives trying to make more and more money, and turning our backs on those people most in need, and that strikes me very deeply,” he continued. “So I embrace that.”
Sanders has twice taken his support for the pope’s agenda to the floor of the US Senate, including last February when he said the pope “showed great courage in raising issues that we very rarely hear discussed here in the Congress,” and quoted from Evangelii Gaudium, a letter written by Francis that some say is the blueprint of his papacy.
He has also praised the pope several times on social media, including last week when he tweeted in support of Francis’ call for more humane immigration policy during the pontiff’s visit to the US-Mexico border.
We must heed Pope Francis' call to put compassion at the center of our immigration policy. https://t.co/17jgI5cX00
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 18, 2016
His rival for the Democratic nomination, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, tweeted a similar message an hour later.
Thankful for @Pontifex's visit to the border and call for immigration reform. We need to keep families together, not break them apart.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 18, 2016
In the Salt + Light interview, which will be posted on YouTube Tuesday, Sanders defended the pope against criticism that, coming from Argentina, he does not understand the complexities of global capitalism, including how best to eliminate poverty.
The pope’s criticism, Sanders said, “comes down to the fact, that among other things, he has been very direct; no, he does not believe in trickle-down economic theory, he does not believe, as many of my more conservative colleagues believe, that if we give more tax breaks to the rich, and we deregulate Wall Street, and deregulate industry, that somehow all of the benefits about the regulation will filter on down to ordinary people.”
“That is a direct critique of conservative politics, and of course he’s going to be attacked for that,” he added.
He also praised the pope’s efforts to highlight environmental degradation and climate change, most notably through his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si, which he called “a profound statement.”
The interview was conducted Sept. 21 in Sanders’ DC offices, the day before the pope arrived in Washington for his US visit.
Sanders, the first non-Christian to win delegates in a US presidential primary, said he is “very proud to be Jewish, very proud of the tradition of the Jewish people,” but he pointed to politics, rather than religion, as the motivating force in his life.
“Well, being Jewish, and understanding that my own family, in Poland and in Russia, went through the Holocaust. My family, members of my family, died because of politics, they were killed, in the most horrible way imaginable,” he said. “So that, at a very early age, made me think about the broader issues. And that’s one of the clearly strong influences on my life.”
Still, he said, “People’s religious and spiritual beliefs are enormously important,” and said government should not “tell you how to pray.”
Pointing to Syria and Afghanistan, Sanders said he finds religious persecution against Christians “heartbreaking.”
“It is beyond heartbreaking to see people leaving Syria and Afghanistan, by the tens of thousands, with the clothing on their backs, and carrying their children in their hands,” he said.