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Exclusive: Watch Bernie Sanders call Pope Francis a socialist

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sat down with the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation where he called Pope Francis a socialist. (Video: Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation)
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Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders calls Pope Francis a socialist in a new interview that was provided to The Washington Post.

During his interview with the Rev. Thomas Rosica, who assists the Vatican press office, Sanders is asked whether he thought Francis is a socialist, and Sanders says yes, and Rosica asks him what he means.

“Well, what it means to be a socialist, 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,” Sanders tells Rosica, head of the Canadian Catholic network Salt and Light, in an interview that will be broadcast Tuesday.

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,” Sanders said.

Sanders praised what the pope has done “in a very bold way” to “raise the issue of the worship of money, the idolatry of money, and to say maybe that’s not what human life should be about, and that is a very, very radical critique of the hypercapitalist system, world system, that we’re living in today,” Sanders said.

Sanders noted the pope’s critique of trickle-down economics.

“[H]e believes that in democratic societies, government itself should play a very strong role in protecting the most vulnerable people amongst us,” Sanders said. “That is a direct critique of conservative politics, and of course he’s going to be attacked for that.”

Earlier this month, Sanders became the first non-Christian to win a presidential primary. Sanders, who is Jewish and openly secular, has said in an interview with CNN 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.”

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Rosica asks Sanders, “What role does God play for you in politics, in your own life?”

Sanders notes that his family in Poland and in Russia went through the Holocaust.

“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.”

Rosica conducted the interview in September, right before the pope visited the United States.

“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,” Rosica wrote in an email.

Sanders’s own candidacy has reignited a previous debate over whether Catholics can support a socialist, a debate over socialism and Catholic moral teaching that has persisted since the late 1800s, said Heath Carter, a history professor at Valparaiso University.

Carter said that part of the problem with declaring Pope Francis a socialist is whether you can agree on its definition. The Catholic Church has long critiqued unbridled capitalism, but, Carter said, Catholics have also feared that socialism could lead to materialism (the Marxist philosophical idea that matter is all there is and a disbelief of the supernatural) and undermining families.

“By Sanders’s definition, Pope Francis has critiqued worship of money,” Carter said. “Whether that’s socialism, that’s another question.”

When he first won election in the House in 1990, Sanders said, “I am a socialist and everyone knows that.”

“Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy,” Sanders has said. His fight for equal treatment of the poor and middle class has been a key point in his campaign.

Many Americans may not agree on how to define “socialism.” A 2014 Reason-Rupe poll found that when respondents were asked to define the term socialism, one-fifth said it referred to government control of the economy while a quarter said they didn’t know.

Ahead of his trip to the U.S., Pope Francis defended his statements on the economy.

“I am certain I have never said anything more than what is in the social doctrine of the church,” he said at the time. “I follow the church and in this I do not think I am wrong.”

Pope Francis then told the story relayed to him that a woman asked if he is the anti-pope because he does not wear red shoes.

“Maybe I have given an impression of being a little bit to the left,” the pope said in September. “And it if necessary, I’ll recite the creed. I am available to do that, eh.”

Before he became Pope Francis, as a Jesuit provincial, he challenged the Marxist tendencies of some mistaken strains of liberation theology, said John Carr, director of Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought & Public Life.

“Now he challenges the moral and human costs of some forms of capitalism that leave millions in desperate poverty,” Carr said. “The pope rejects the excessive individualism of left and right, challenging those who make the free market or personal choice the measure of everything.”

Rosica also asked Sanders about his support for abortion rights in contrast to Catholic Church teaching.

“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, noting that he and Pope Francis also disagree on gay marriage.

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