It's been patently clear for some time now that Bernie Sanders and Pope Francis are fellow travelers, especially on the path of social and economic justice. Sanders's recent trip to the Vatican to participate in a conference on economic justice, along with a surprise meeting with Pope Francis, is as close to a papal endorsement as any presidential candidate could hope for.
There was much rather comical dissembling at the Vatican over the particulars of the invitation, including adamant insistence, parroted by more than few papal pundits, that there would be no private meeting between the Vermont senator and the Argentine pontiff. Sanders's Vatican visit, combined with the pope's recent rebuke of Donald Trump, leaves no question about whom the Latin American pontiff prefers in the American presidential contest
Pope Francis's overarching agenda, far from politically neutral, is in sync with the political platform of the only Jewish candidate for president - Bernie Sanders. Here are the major themes addressed by the head of the Catholic Church that align the most with those of the self-described Democratic Socialist.
Immigration - The rights of immigrants and refugees, particularly those from the pope's Latin America, to a life of dignity and opportunity was is at the top of Francis's agenda. In addition to a pastoral concern for his fellow Latinos, the Argentine pontiff knows that the future of the U.S. Church is likely a Latino one. 38% of American Catholics are Latino. Sanders, like Hillary Clinton, endorses a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Led by Donald Trump, who calls for a wall on the Mexican border and mass deportations, Republicans have recently become even more hardline on the issue.
Diplomacy - One of the hallmarks of Francis's three-year-old papacy has been the role of international peacemaker. In fact, his recent U.S. visit began with a directly flight from from Cuba where he celebrated his role of chief architect of the renewal of diplomatic relations between the two historical adversaries. The Peacemaker Pontiff has also endorsed the nuclear treaty with Iran, which Sanders and Clinton have both endorsed. While both Democratic candidates also agree with the pope on the need to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, Sanders is not the international interventionist that Clinton is. The Vermont senator opposed the catastrophic Iraq War while many Democrats, including Clinton, endorsed it.
The Environment - As Eco-Pope, Francis has put sustainable development at the top of his papal agenda. With an entire encyclical on the Christian imperative to cherish and protect mother earth, Francis exhorts both Americans and the international community to take urgent action aimed at promoting sustainable development. Sanders's positions are much more in line with the pope's perspective than Clinton's. He opposes the Keystone pipeline and arctic and offshore drilling while supporting an increase in renewable power and providing tax breaks as an incentive.
The Death Penalty and Prison Reform - The U.S. leads the world in the percentage of its citizens under lock and key, and of course many are incarcerated on drug-related charges. In his speech to Congress the Pope of Mercy reiterated his opposition to the death penalty and belief in rehabilitation. "I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes." Dramatically underscoring his message, Francis visited a Philadelphia prison where he embraced inmates and denounced a penal system that only punishes without offering opportunities for rehabilitation.
Sanders is the only candidate who has long opposed to the death penalty and also has the strongest record of supporting alternative sentencing and rehabilitation instead of building more prisons, which has become a profitable industry lately. Clinton seems to be moving in Sanders's direction recently but for most of her career has been more of a "tough on crime" politician, supporting California's failed Three Strikes law back in the mid-1990s and as First Lady in 1996 controversially employing the term "super-predators". "They are often the kinds of kids that are called 'super-predators.' No conscience, no empathy, we can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel."
The Common Good and The Poor - The real crux of the message of the People's Pope to Americans was the Christian mandate to be of service our sisters and brothers, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. Though not a socialist, Francis has been very critical of the global capitalist system, which he blames for creating millions of 'throwaway' people who are excluded from meaningful participation in society. Of all the candidates, Sanders is the only one who echoes the pope's criticisms and calls for a more equitable American society devoid of the shocking concentration of wealth and income and growing gap between the rich and poor. His stances on public education, healthcare, corporate taxation, tax reform and workers' rights are far more in sync with Pope Francis than any of his political rivals, including Clinton who is supported by significant corporate interests and, along with Bill, enjoys an annual income that is 100 times more than that of the Sanders.
The Family - The first New World pope sees the traditional nuclear family as a "factory of hope" and advocates policy that preserves it, much to the chagrin of those who'd like to see him accept gay marriage. While defense of the traditional family, codified in his recent exhortation on the family, would seem to align the pontiff with Republican candidates who oppose same-sex unions, it isn't so clear cut. Some of the greatest pressure on American families is financial, related to the skyrocketing costs of a college education, health care, and daycare. More than other candidates, Sanders advocates policies that would relieve growing financial threats to American families.
Bromance - Of course, the Latin American leader of the Catholic Church speaks to other important issues, such as the persecution of Christians in many Muslim-majority nations, but none is as salient as the ones laid out above. It became crystal clear during the pope's recent U.S. tour that he and the Vermont senator are fellow travelers on the path to social and economic justice. Sanders's visit to the Vatican in mid-campaign, including a private visit with his Argentine compadre, leaves no doubt that about whom Pope Francis would like to see in the White House.
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