Catholic Values Column: Religious and political leaders should tread carefully



We all know that election season brings a veritable flood of accusations, untrue claims and “fudged” phrases. However, it is important to note when such phraseology is made in reference to the faith.

Some might be aware of the recent meeting  Bernie Sanders had with Pope Francis on April 16 at the Vatican. CNN reported that Sanders was in Rome to speak at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to address the topic of economics.

While I would like to go on the record noting that I am in full support of dialogue between religious leaders and political leaders, I find it curious that Sanders has been the only candidate so far to be invited to the Vatican.

This mystery becomes only slightly less clear when examining an article entitled, “Who said it: Bernie Sanders or the Pope?” recently published by CNN. In the article, CNN religion editor Daniel Burke presents more than several quotes from both Bernie Sanders and Pope Francis and, in sort of a quiz-like format, lets the readers guess who it was who made the statement.

I have to confess, with some of the statements even I was unsure of whom to choose. As a Catholic who believes that faith should play a defining role in how we live our lives and how our government functions, I find it disturbing that the statements made by a socialist who is running for president hard to delineate from the leader of the Catholic Church.

Consider Burke’s introduction of the article: “Count Bernie Sanders among Francis’ hallelujah choir. The Vermont senator, an avowed democratic socialist, has repeatedly praised the Pope, calling his outspoken critique of capitalism and defense of the environment a gift from You Know Who.”

While I am certainly not saying that Pope Francis is endorsing Sanders, his purported support of Sanders should prompt us to follow carefully what the pope might be communicating. In theory, Sanders’ platforms of a fair economy and climate change are admirable. However, history itself has proven that socialism never brings a country from a destitute lifestyle to one of prosperity.

And, in a country that is facing much more significant issues like the growing threat of terrorism and great challenges to religious freedom, the climate change bandwagon could probably be put on a back burner until these pressing and life-threatening matters are adequately addressed.

Returning to Burke’s article and the striking similarities between Sanders’ statements and the pope’s statements, consider the following quote:

“This system is by now intolerable: Farmers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, people find it intolerable.”

When reading this quote in Burke’s article, I was unsure to credit this statement to Sanders or Pope Francis. It turns out that the pope spoke these words in a speech during a visit to Bolivia. Burke, illustrating the uncanny similarities between the pope and Sanders highlighted the following quote from Sanders:

“We live in a country today that has an economy that is rigged, a campaign finance system which is corrupt and a criminal justice system which, too often, does not dispense justice.”

While I would like to go on record and say that there is truth to both of these statements in that the American political and economical system always has room for improvement, I find it disturbing that the statements of our pope and a socialist American political leader are so strikingly similar.

It is too soon to make any solid judgment calls quite yet, but let us take this opportunity to pray for our leaders, that they will remain in the Light and have the courage to leave behind political philosophies and ideologies that fail to foster true freedom.