The Bernie Sanders camp swears on a stack of Bibles: The senator’s invite to the Vatican next week came from a higher power — not political pressure.
A beaming Sanders, declaring he was a “big, big fan” of kindred spirit Pope Francis, announced Friday morning that he was asked to attend the April 15 papal conference on social, economic and environmental issues.
“People think Bernie Sanders is radical? Uh-uh,” Sanders said on MSNBC. “Read what the Pope is writing . . . He’s trying to inject a sense of morality into how we do economics. And we need that, absolutely, desperately.”
The 25th anniversary of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences kicks off just four days before Sanders’ Brooklyn presidential primary showdown with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
The invite sparked a campaign kerfuffle when academy president Margaret Archer told Bloomberg News that Sanders lobbied for inclusion in a cynical grab for Catholic support before the key vote.
“Sanders made the first move, for the obvious reasons,” charged Archer. “I think in a sense he may be going for the Catholic vote. But this is not the Catholic vote and he should remember that and act accordingly — not that he will.”
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Archer’s allegation was rebutted by both the Sanders camp and the academy’s chancellor, Bishop Marcello Sanchez Sorondo.
Pope Francis delivers the Urbi et Orbi blessing from the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica during Easter Mass in Saint Peter’s Square in March.
The Sanders camp flatly denied her version of what happened, and asserted there was no angling for a spot before the March 30 invite arrived.
Archer — whose name actually appeared on the invitation — claimed in a jumbled timeline that Sanders started applying the pressure “two or three days ago” and described his approach as a “monumental discourtesy.”
Sorondo said he asked Sanders to attend because of the socialist candidate’s interest in Pope Francis’ positions on different subjects.
“I don’t see the other candidates quoting the Pope in their campaign,” said Sorondo.
But asked directly if Sanders had asked for an invite, Sorondo hedged a bit in an interview with CNN.
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“He has expressed an interest many times in the Pope’s encyclical and it’s clear that he has an interest in studying it,” Sorondo said, adding, “We are not looking to support the campaign.”
He then told Reuters the invite was his idea, and that Archer had signed off on it. “I invited him with her consensus,” he said.
A press release from the papal academy said the event is “bringing together world leaders, including U.S. Sen. Sanders, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa (and) Bolivian President Evo Morales.”
After making the trip to Rome, Sanders will return to New York for the final days of campaigning before the April 19 primary. He heads over the day after his Brooklyn debate with Clinton.
While a Jewish leftist from Brooklyn and an Argentine Catholic pontiff sounds like an odd couple, Sanders said the two shared similar views on many issues — particularly the economy.
“He’s talking about the idolatry of money, the worship of money, the greed that’s out there,” said Sanders said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.
He has won six of the last seven Democratic primaries or caucuses, with the New York race shaping up as critical for both candidates.
The White House hopeful has not received an invitation for face time with Pope Francis. But “if the opportunity arises, he would be delighted to meet with the Pope,” said Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs.
Papal spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told the Italian news agency ANSA that “there is no expectation” of a get-together.
And papal expert the Rev. Thomas Reese said no one should confuse the invitation with an endorsement.
“The last thing Pope Francis wants to do is get involved in American presidential politics,” he said.
Francis was accused of doing just that earlier this year, when he said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian” — a not-so-veiled shot at GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
With News Wire Services
With Meg Wagner