Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced on Friday that he had accepted an invitation from the Vatican to attend a conference next week hosted by the pope himself that will focus on social, economic and environmental issues.
The topics are tailor-made for the Democratic presidential contender who has pinned his White House hopes on a message of economic fairness and other pocket-book issues.
“I am a big, big fan of the pope,” Sanders said Friday during an interview MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “He’s trying to inject this sense of morality into how we do economics ... and we need that absolutely desperately.”
Specifically, Sanders will attend the Catholic Church’s annual Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences conferences and deliver a speech on April 15. The 74-year-old said he would he would talk about how to create a moral economy during his overseas visit.
Sanders will give his address just four days before the crucial New York primary on April 19. The democratic-socialist, who has beat frontrunner Hillary Clinton in seven of the last eight contests, is hoping to use his recent momentum to pull off a stunning upset in Clinton’s adopted home state and keep his campaign competitive in the race for delegates.
What had been a mostly civil competition has taken a nasty turn in the last few days, with each candidate questioning the others qualifications for the presidency. Sanders seems to be backing down in that argument, for now, but the fracas could be a sign of more personal, bruising attacks to come between the two rivals before the Democratic National Convention this summer.
The news of Sanders’ invitation came the same day Pope Francis called for a church that was less strict and more compassionate toward “imperfect” Catholics, including those who are divorced or been remarried.
It’s doubtful His Holiness is worried about injecting the papacy into the 2016 presidential election. In February he suggested Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is “not Christian” for his idea to build a wall along the U.S. southern border to keep out illegal immigrants.
The real estate mogul responded in kind, saying: “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.”
“No leader, especially a religious leader, has the right to question another man’s religion or faith,” he said at a campaign event. Trump then accused the Mexican government of “using the pope as a pawn.”
At a brief press conference in New York on Friday Sanders said he hoped to meet the pontiff during his visit.
However, such a meeting wouldn’t be without its tensions, according to Sanders. He said the two disagree on a host of topics, including gay rights.
Still, Sanders said he admires the pope for talking about the “worship of money, the greed that’s out there.”
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: