Pope Francis met Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, briefly this morning outside the breakfast room of the Domus Santa Marta, where the Pope lives. Bernie and his wife Jane had both been invited to be guests for the night in the Domus. They reportedly stayed on the same floor as the Pope. The two were seen in the reception area, carrying their own bags.
Sanders advisor Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, also a guest in the Domus for the night -- he frequently stays in the Domus when he attends conferences of the Holy See's Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, where Bernie gave his 10-minute talk yesterday afternoon -- was also present nearby, and estimated that the meeting lasted "for five minutes." There are no photos of the meeting. "We had an opportunity to meet with him this morning," Sanders told Ken Thomas of the Associated Press later in the morning. "It was a real honor for me, for my wife and I to spend some time with him. I think he is one of the extraordinary figures not only in the world today but in modern world history."
Sanders said it was a brief meeting. "I told him that I was incredibly appreciative of the incredible role that he is playing in this planet in discussing issues about the need for an economy based on morality, not greed."
The Meaning of the Meeting
As I wrote two days ago, quoting a senior Vatican official, this meeting was not an endorsement of Bernie by Pope Francis. Indeed, its very nature -- standing in the hotel foyer, at dawn, just before the Pope leaves for an important international journey -- is clearly personal and private.
As the Vatican official told me the other day, "Even if the Pope did meet with him [Senator Sanders], it would not be for political reasons, but for pastoral reasons. The Pope is a pastor. In the end, we are all concerned about saving souls. A meeting would not be an endorsement of one candidate over another, not an encouragement, not that at all. It would be an opportunity to discuss things.”
And what "pastoral reasons" might Pope Francis have had? What concerns might he have about... the state of Bernie's soul?
Bernie Sanders is not in favor of building walls. Nor is he in favor of enormous gaps in income between the rich and the poor, which leave so many in fear on the 24th or 26th of the month, that they won't be able to reach the end of the month with any money at all. Nor is he in favor of poisoning our environment, of polluting our biosphere, harming future generations. Nor is he in favor of sick people unable to receive proper health care. And in holding these and other positions, Bernie is not far from the Christian position expressed so eloquently by Pope Francis in all of his teaching.
In his talk yesterday, Bernie quoted Pope Francis repeatedly. He said: "As Pope Francis has stated: 'Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules.'" And Bernie added: "We have made new idols." And he said: "Our very soul as a nation has suffered as the public lost faith in political and social institutions." So Bernie himself used the term "soul" in his talk yesterday.
Bernie and the Pope on Life Issues
But Bernie Sanders' position on human life, that is, specifically, on the right to life, which means, on abortion, is one of the most radical "pro-choice " positions of all the U.S. presidential candidates. His position calls for allowing women to abort their babies up to the very moment of birth. "I've been spending my political life fighting for the right of women to control her own body," Sanders has said. "I have 100% voting record pro-choice voting record, and if elected president... [I will] continue to defend the woman's right to choose." Indeed, Sanders has been emphasizing that he is more in favor of abortion than his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Pope Francis has been a defender of the weak, of the poor, of the innocent, and he has been a staunch defender of the most innocent of all -- the unborn. Francis' recent letter Amoris Laetitia, on love in the family, emphasizes this "pro-life" position of the Pope. What is this position that the Pope, and the Church, holds so strongly?
It is that every woman must truly "make a choice" during her pregnancy -- a choice whether to nourish and care for the unborn child she bears, or not to so nourish and care for the child. This does not mean either choice is easy. It does not mean that there are not grave responsibilities that come with bearing a new human life. It does not mean that Pope Francis and pro-life Catholics and Christians and men and women of good will are not aware that a woman can feel afraid, and alone, and in danger from the responsibility she faces for the life growing within her.
But it does mean that the choice involves the life of another human being, a growing human person, and that the choice she takes must take into account the fact that that other human life is now living in her, with her, through her, and depends upon her choice. The essential belief of the Christian faith is that the power that redeems this fallen world is the power of self-sacrificial love. This is the love that redeems.
Selfishness seems to be innate -- we all seek to have "our share" and, perhaps, more than our share.
And yet, the world unfolds in a beautiful way, toward goodness, truth and holiness, when this selfishness is transcended, when this self-centeredness is overcome by the unselfishness of fathers and mothers, of husbands and wives, of parents and children, of brothers and sisters, of friends toward friends, of friends toward strangers (as the Pope is showing today on his journey to the island of Lesbos, crowded with thousands of homeless refugees).
Each of us owes to a mother the breath that we breathe, the life that we lead. Pope Francis was the choice of his mother. Bernie Sanders was the choice of his mother.
I was the choice of my mother. You are the choice of your mother.
Throughout human history, the womb of the mother was regarded as the most sacred, and safe, of human spaces. Every culture has sought to make mothers feel comfortable, safe, secure, in order that the offspring they bear may be comfortable, safe, secure. Only in our lifetimes has the logic of "self-fulfillment" caused a tearing of the universal fabric, present from the beginning, of protection for the unborn. Only in our time have entire nations, entire cultures, focused solely on the mothers, and their hopes and dreams for their personal career and lives, setting aside entirely the hopes and dreams, and rights, of the infants they are bearing.
This unprecedented shift in our collective attitude toward human life has marked our time, and future historians will consider it a distinguishing mark of our age. We have truly been suffering "strong delusion," unaware of the "silent scream" that occurs each time an infant's life is taken. This is the dark secret at the heart of our culture: we have turned against ourselves.
We are like madmen gnawing the flesh off of our own hands and arms.
And Bernie Sanders the other night, in his debate with Hillary Clinton was at pains to affirm that he is more "pro-choice" than Hillary. This, he seems to think, is the right path. This, he also seems to think, is the way to be elected. And so Bernie met with Pope Francis.
And he is now telling the world about how proud he is that he had the meeting. But might he not consider whether there was a message in the Pope's decision to receive him, even if only for a minute, in the foyer of the Domus, with both of them, as it were, with suitcases in their hands, and planes to catch?
Pope Francis received Bernie.
But did Bernie receive Pope Francis?
Robert Moynihan PhD is the founder and editor of Inside the Vatican Report