In an interview that aired Tuesday on Canadian Catholic television, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders tried to steal a little luster from Pope Francis, saying he thinks the Pope is a socialist who believes, like him, that wealth is not “an end in itself.”
During the interview, Father Thomas Rosica, the Canadian priest from the Salt and Light Catholic television network who hosted the interview, asked Sanders whether he thought Francis is a socialist, to which Sanders said “yes.”
“To be a socialist,” said Sanders, “in the sense of what the Pope is talking about, what I’m talking about, is to say that we have got to do our best and live our lives in a way that alleviates human suffering, that does not accelerate the disparities of income and wealth.”
Although Pope Francis has never described himself as a socialist, he has been very critical of the “unfettered pursuit of money,” saying that we can “no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market” and that justice requires “mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income.”
In 2013, however, the Pope said that “the Marxist ideology is wrong,” when asked about his economic views. In his visit to the United States, moreover, Francis praised American capitalism in his address to the U.S. Congress, underscoring the importance of wealth creation for lifting the poor out of poverty.
It is “the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and – one step at a time – to build a better life for their families” who “sustain the life of society,” he said.
For his part, Sanders has explicitly declared himself to be a socialist, and on first winning election to the House in 1990, he said, “I am a socialist and everyone knows that.”
In the broadcast Tuesday Sanders praised the work the Pope has done in addressing important socio-economic issues.
“In my mind,” Sanders said, “in the last few years, the Pope has played an extraordinary role in speaking out on issues of enormous consequence that impact every man, woman and child not just on our country but on the planet. He has shown great courage in raising issues that we very rarely hear discussed here in the Congress or in parliaments around the country.”
We are living in a world where greed has become, for the wealthiest people, their own religion, Sanders said.
“When [Pope Francis] talks about wealth being used to serve people, not as an end in itself, I agree with that,” he said.
In New Hampshire, Sanders became the first non-Christian in history to win a presidential primary. Sanders, who is ethnically Jewish but does not believe in God, has said that he would not be running “if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings … my spirituality is that we are all in this together.”
When Sanders was asked by Father Rosica expressly about God and the role he plays in his life and politics, Sanders deflected the question, preferring to speak about his Jewish roots.
“I am very proud to be Jewish, very proud of the tradition of the Jewish people, and the huge contributions they have made to civilization,” Sanders said. “And I think what I learned, as a child, not up here, but here, before I understood politics, is what many African Americans in this country understand, is that politics has a huge impact on your lives.”
The interview with Sanders took place in September, just before the Pope visited the United States, but the Canadian television station held it to be aired during the presidential primaries.
“Given the heated environment of the current election campaign in the USA and the recent flare up over the Pope and religion, we felt that this would be the right time to air the interview,” Father Rosica said.
Sanders’s candidacy has reignited a debate over whether Catholics can support a socialist, as well as the importance of abortion in the election.
Over the years, the papal magisterium has repeatedly condemned socialism as completely incompatible with the Christian understanding of the human person and society.
Pope Leo XIII forcefully denounced socialism in 1891, and forty years later, a number of concerned Catholics approached Pope Pius XI and asked him to reevaluate socialism to see whether in a more mitigated form it might be compatible with the Christian worldview. Cannot socialism be “baptized”? they asked.
Pius famously responded:
Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.
And he concluded: “Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”
When asked about his support for abortion in contrast to Pope Francis’ staunch pro-life stance, Sanders downplayed its importance.
“The best that I can say on those issues is let’s respect each other when we disagree, and let’s work together on those areas that we do agree on,” Sanders said.
In a recent press conference, Pope Francis called abortion “a crime” and an “absolute evil,” comparing it to Mafia assassinations. Francis went on to say that abortion “is an evil in and of itself” not just because of religious norms, but because it is “killing.”
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