NEW YORK — Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, an enthusiastic fan of Pope Francis's work, plans to step off the campaign trail next week to speak at a conference hosted by the Vatican on social, economic and environmental issues.
The senator from Vermont is planning to head to Rome immediately after a high-profile debate scheduled here with Hillary Clinton on April 14. He'll speak at the gathering hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Sanders said.
“I am grateful to the Vatican for inviting me to talk about an issue that is very dear to my heart, which is how we create a moral economy that works for all of the people rather than just the top one percent,” Sanders said in an interview. “I will also in my remarks be addressing the planetary crisis of climate change and the moral imperative to make sure we leave this planet in a way that is healthy and habitable for future generations.”
Sanders, who would be the nation’s first Jewish president, often refers to Francis on the campaign trail, praising his leadership on economic and environmental issues. Sanders said he believes he will be the only U.S. public official speaking at the gathering.
“I think the Vatican has been aware of the fact that, in many respects, the pope’s views and my views are very much related,” Sanders said. “He has talked in an almost unprecedented way about the need to address income and wealth inequality, poverty and to combat the greed that we’re seeing all over this world, which is doing so much harm to so many people. … For me, it is an extraordinary honor to receive this invitation.”
The planned visit has also prompted a dispute among Vatican officials, Bloomberg Politics reported Friday.
Margaret Archer, the president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which is hosting the event, said that Sanders didn’t follow proper protocol by failing to contact her office — which she termed a “monumental discourtesy” — and that his presence threatens to make the event political. However, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the academy’s chancellor, said he had arranged the invitation and that Sanders's presence is welcome.
Sanders’s trip will come amid a highly combative campaign in advance of the New York primary on April 19. He is making an aggressive bid to catch Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination despite her formidable lead in the delegate count. Sanders has won six of the last seven states to hold primaries or caucuses, including Wisconsin on Tuesday.