Sen. Bernie Sanders is planning to attend a conference at the Vatican on April 15, just four days before the New York primary. According to his campaign, the presidential candidate accepted an invitation to attend an event hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
“I am delighted to have been invited by the Vatican to a meeting on restoring social justice and environmental sustainability to the world economy," Sanders said in a statement. "Pope Francis has made clear that we must overcome ‘the globalization of indifference’ in order to reduce economic inequalities, stop financial corruption and protect the natural environment. That is our challenge in the United States and in the world.”
The statement proclaimed that the conference date coincides with the 25th anniversary of "an important encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, which called for an economy of dignity, social justice and environmental sustainability." Centesimus Annus was released on the 100th anniversary of Rerum novarum – an encyclical circulated by Pope Leo XIII that discussed the respective roles played by capital and labor in society.
Appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Sanders said he does not share the teachings of the Catholic Church with regard to issues such as marriage and sexuality, but claimed to be "moved" by the invitation he received. Referring to Pope Francis, Sanders said "He has played an unbelievable role, an unbelievable role, of injecting a moral consequence into the economy." Sanders added: "There are people who think that Bernie Sanders is radical. Read what the Pope is writing. What he is saying is not only that we have to pay attention to what he calls the 'dispossessed.' ” Sanders' wife, the former Mary Jane O'Meara Driscoll, is a divorced Catholic.
Academic and political luminaries have attended the conference in the past. Among them are economist Jeffrey Sachs, who advocates abortion and contraception as means of addressing overpopulation and climate change. In the past, the Pontifical Academy has issued pronouncements on issues such as human trafficking, slavery, and global climate change. Other attendees have included Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and the Sultan Nazrin Shah - the ruler of Malaysia.
On the website of the Academy, it refers to the importance of the airing of a wide range of views concern social and economic change so that pastors of the Catholic Church, and laity, better understand the changes in the world. The website stated:
"The Academy recognizes that it plays an important role in how the church engages the world. Its purpose is a scholarly one, and so offering the insights of social science can help both church leaders and ordinary Catholics better understand what is happening around them. At the same time, however, the Academy’s scholars reject any belief that a top-down, deductive declaration of truth from any discipline can suffice for understanding of the contemporary situation. Careful observation, analysis, and theorization of what is occurring and a generous listening to the multiplicity of “grass-roots” groups and movements around the globe is critical for an adequate grasp of social reality today. The challenge of the gospel, the integrity of social science, and the common good in our day all press us to attend carefully both to what is occurring in the world around us and to how we engage that world."
The agenda for the meeting this month includes the following:
Changes in the world economy since 1991
"The fall of the Soviet Union was the major economic backdrop of Centesimus annus. Much has occurred economically since. What are the most salient changes in global economic life since then and how well does the economic insight of Centesimus annus illuminate those changes? What do recent economic crises and recent changes in economic thinking suggest for the future of economic life of ordinary people, especially the poor and marginalized?
Changes in the world political situation since 1991
"The fall of the Soviet Union and the democratization of Eastern Europe formed the major political backdrop of Centesimus annus. What is the global political situation today and how is this different from the recent past? Which elements require greater attention by both the international community and by Catholic social teaching in order to improve the political involvement of and political outcomes for ordinary citizens, especially the poor and marginalized?
Changes in the world cultural situation since 1991
"The Church is an expert on the human person, and this insight imbued the analysis of Centesimus annus. Yet the past 25 years have seen remarkable developments in culture, with the impact of the internet, the marketization of life, the importance of Islam, new dynamics of secularization, etc. How ought we to think about the cultural situation today and what realities call for further reflection within Catholic social thought today to better understand the situation of ordinary people, especially the poor and marginalized?"