June 29, 2017
Bernie Sanders' Vatican Invitation Already Sparking Controversy – No He Didn't Invite Himself

On Friday morning, Bernie Sanders appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe program and announced he'd been invited to the Vatican to meet with a group of papal scholars. The event is a meeting of the "Centesimus Annus: 25 Years Later," which addresses humanitarian topics. Sanders will take a break from campaigning to visit the Vatican a day after his April 14 debate against Hillary Clinton.

On the same day that Sanders will be attending the event at the Vatican, Hillary Clinton will be at a $353,000 fundraiser featuring Hollywood A-Lister George Clooney and his wife, Amal.

The invitation has already stirred up controversy among Sanders' critics. Professor Margaret Archer, who is the President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, claimed Sanders essentially invited himself, breaking protocol. According to Bloomberg, she reportedly said that Sanders "failed to contact her office first" prior to being invited.

Archer objected to Sanders' presence because she claimed it would make the event political during a heated Democratic primary campaign.

Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, who is Chancellor of PASS, denied this allegation. In a follow-up story with Reuters, Sorondo said that it was his idea to invite Sanders and that Archer knew of it.

"This is not true and she knows it. I invited him with her consensus."
Sorondo's position in the academy is senior to Archer's. While Archer claimed Sanders made the first move, Monsignor Sorondo declined to clarify whether Sanders had reached out first.

In his excitement at being invited to the event, Sanders misspoke and told the Morning Joe panel that the invitation had come directly from Pope Francis.

"…this is an invitation from the Vatican, from a pope that I have enormous respect for in terms of the level of consciousness that he's raising on the need to have morality in our economy."
However, Pope Francis' spokesman Father Federico Lombardi made it clear that the PASS invitation was not a direct invitation from the Pope and that a meeting between the two men may not even occur.
"For the moment there is no expectation that there will also be a meeting with the pope."
While Monsignor Sorondo is Chancelor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, he is also a close aide to Pope Francis. And so even if the pope did not extend the invitation himself, he likely knew an invitation had been extended to Bernie Sanders to visit the Vatican.

Sorondo explained his reasons for inviting Sanders to the Vatican symposium.

"We are interested in having him because we have two presidents coming from Latin America, I thought it would be good to have an authoritative voice from North America."
The Monsignor also said the invitation had been extended to Sanders "quite some time ago."

After the dispute hit the news cycles about who invited whom, Bernie Sanders' campaign released a copy of the invitation to visit the Vatican from Monsignor Sorondo, putting to rest any doubt that he had, indeed, been invited to attend the symposium. The letter is dated March 30, 2016.

Throughout his campaign, Sanders has often expressed his respect for Pope Francis and the pontiff's willingness to criticize corporate greed and income inequality, which are the cornerstones for his campaign. Sanders is Jewish, but his wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, is Catholic.

According to the PASS website the event is described as a "serious academic discussion" regarding social and economic issues on a global scale. The event marks the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's social encyclical, which came after Catholic intellectual Tadeusz Mazowieki was elected Prime Minister of Poland, the John Paul II's homeland. Pope John Paul II became increasingly engaged in Eastern Europe's social and economic issues after the fall of Soviet Communism and thus issued his Centesimus Annus in 1991, when Eastern Europe experienced rapid democratization.

Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa will both present papers at evening discussions during the weekend event. Although Bernie Sanders may not have official billing at the Vatican event, Monsignor Sorondo's statement implies he may play some part in it.

[Photo: Eric Thayer/Getty Images]