Letter #28, 2016: Bernie and the Pope

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April 14, 2016, Thursday — “No Meeting Foreseen”… But…

“No meeting of the Pope with Bernie Sanders is foreseen.” —A senior Vatican official today in Rome

“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.” —The same Vatican official, later in the same conversation

Will Pope Francis Meet with Bernie Sanders?

Will Pope Francis meet tomorrow with U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders?

Senator Sanders (photo below) is flying to Rome this evening and will be at a Vatican-sponsored conference tomorrow, before returning to the United States on Saturday morning.

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Pope Francis, who is in Rome today and tomorrow, will also be leaving Rome on Saturday, to fly to the island of Lesbos, in Greece, to visit the thousands of migrants and refugees on that Greek island not far from Turkey.

So, if the meeting were to occur, it would have to be during Friday.

Will it occur?

If the usual protocol is followed, the answer is clearly: “No.”

Bernie Sanders will not meet with Pope Francis.

It will not happen.

And this is what Vatican officials are saying.

“No meeting of the Pope with Bernie Sanders is foreseen,” a senior Vatican official in a position to know told me this afternoon.

Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., the head of the Vatican press office, earlier today also threw cold water on the idea of a Bernie-Francis meeting.

Lombardi, during a routine briefing in the Vatican press office, when asked if the Pope would meet with the academics and policy makers who are participating in a Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences conference tomorrow (a group that will include Senator Sanders, who will read a 10-minute paper at the conference) said: “There won’t be a meeting with the Holy Father.”

And so there will be no “papal photo op” for Bernie to publicize as he continues on the campaign trail against Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.

So this is the latest news.

Could There Be a “Francis Surprise”?

Still… Pope Francis is a Pope of many surprises.

Given his unpredictability, is a meeting with Sanders to be excluded?

“I know this is a very sensitive issue,” my source told me. “And the truth is, if any political leader decides to publish a picture of himself and the Pope, he really is just trying to show how far away he is from the Pope and the Pope’s positions and ways of viewing things.

“The Pope is not a politician. He is a pastor.

“In his role as a pastor, if he can help someone along, that would be a good thing. Everybody would benefit.

“Again, and I have to stress this, no meeting is foreseen. That’s clear.

“So 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 anything like that.

“It would be an opportunity to discuss things.”

My source noted that there are two other leading Democrats in Rome this month: Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who will be in Rome this weekend, and Vice-President Joseph Biden, who will be in Rome at the end of the month. Both of them are Catholics. Bernie Sanders is Jewish.

Pelosi would like to attend the Sunday morning Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at 9:30 a.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Pope, acting as the bishop of Rome, will ordain 11 new priests on Sunday, April 17. The priests will serve in the diocese of Rome. The youngest is 26 years old, the two eldest are 44. The Pope’s Cardinal Vicar for Rome, Agostino Vallini, will concelebrate with the Pope

However, at such Masses in the Basilica there are normally no chances to meet the Pope.

So there will be no papal meeting with Pelosi, I was told.

There also is no meeting scheduled with Biden, my source said.

Biden will be in Rome on April 29. He is participating in a conference on cancer and stem cell therapy organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture. Here is an AP report on his visit (link).

As for Bernie….

As for Bernie, the chances of a papal meeting now seem slim to none.

“It’s something I would be very proud to see happen,” Sanders told The Washington Post. “I believe that the Pope has been an inspirational figure in raising public consciousness about the kind of income and wealth inequality we are seeing all over this world.”

But, in the end, will Bernie meet Pope Francis?

We will have to wait and see.

Stay tuned…


More on the Invitation to Bernie Sanders

After Senator Sanders announced last week that he had been invited to Rome and that he expected that he would meet Pope Francis, there was considerable confusion.

No one seemed to know exactly who had invited Sanders, and for what purpose.

Had Pope Francis issued the invite?

One of his staff?

Someone else?

Was the invitation made with or without the Pope’s knowledge?

An April 11 article on the internet gives interesting background on this question. It is by Dana Houle, a former Capitol Hill chief of staff for a congressman, now living in Chicago, in his blog, Rooted Cosmopolitan (link).

He suggests that the invitation was the idea of “economist Jeffrey Sachs and American policy advocate and communications consultant Michael Shank.”

(Here is a link to Shank’s website, www.michaelshank.tv. Shank is an adjunct professor at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. On his site’s home page, there is a 7-minute video, worth taking a brief look at, of Shank giving a talk to a meeting at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on March 18, less than a month ago. So Shank was in Rome in mid-March. It is not inconceivable that the idea of inviting Senator Sanders to Rome took shape at that time.)

Houle writes: “Through the course of Friday it became obvious that in fact no office that directly represents the Pope or in an important body of the Holy See was involved in inviting Sanders to what turned out to be a conference of mostly academics… regarding the machinations behind the decision, it appears the invitation was pushed by economist Jeffrey Sachs and American policy advocate and communications consultant Michael Shank.”

After a brief overview of the Vatican’s organizational structure, to show where the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences fits in that structure, Houle writes: “As it turned out, the invitation was not from what people usually mean when they refer to the Vatican or The Holy See, or the Pope. It was from the relatively obscure Pontifical Academy of Social Science(s).”

[Note: This is true. The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences is not one of the nine major Vatican Congregations (like Doctrine of the Faith, Liturgy, Saints, etc.), nor one of the 12 Vatican Councils (like Culture, Christian Unity, Family, etc.), nor one of the three Tribunals (Penitentiary, Rota Romana, Supreme Tribunal), nor one of the eight Commissions (Sacred Archeology, Biblical Commission, Commission for Latin America), but one of five Academies (Cult of the Martyrs, Ecclesiastical Academy, Academy for Life, Academy of Sciences, Academy of Social Sciences). In a sense, if we regard each of these as a different rank of importance, it is on the 5th rank…]

jpegHoule continues: “On Friday, the Chancellor of PASS, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo (photo), said he had extended the invitation, and the Sanders campaign quickly proffered his invitation. [Note: Sanchez Sorondo, 73, who is Argentine, like the Pope, is quite close to Pope Francis. It is not a stretch to suppose that a project Sanchez Sorondo was involved with, like an invitation to Bernie Sanders to visit Rome, may have been communicated to Pope Francis.]

“But one of the conference participants, economist Jeffrey Sachs — an advisor to Sanders — had, according to The Atlantic, helped facilitate the invitation. And around that time, the Sanders campaign did something extraordinary: it directed press inquiries about its candidate to someone presumably not on the campaign payroll and with no authority to speak on behalf of the campaign: communications consultant Michael Shank.”

He continues: “Shank has written and done advocacy on a wide range of issues, and has worked or consulted for numerous elected officials, government agencies, and NGO’s. In the context of the Sanders/Vatican incident, a few things leap out. According to his website, ‘he handles communications for Professor Jeffrey Sachs.’ He has also been a communications consultant for PASS.

“Shank is also quite transparent about his antipathy toward Hillary Clinton and his lack of respect for Obama’s presidency… Shank has also done his share of praising Sanders… And last July he tweeted a quote of Sanders comparing himself to the Pope, and ended the tweet with ‘@CasinaPioIV,’ which is the Twitter account for PAS and PASS.”

So today I phoned over to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which has its offices in the Vatican Gardens, behind St. Peter’s Basilica in the small building or “small house” (“casina“) known as the Casina Pio IV (“The Pius the 4th Small House”) and asked for Archbishop Sanchez Sorondo, in order to try to see to what extent any of this corresponded to the facts.

The secretary who answered, a woman, said that Sanchez Sorondo was not immediately available and that she would find someone else for me to speak to.

A man came to the phone. He spoke in English. He told me his name was… Michael Shank.

“Thank you for taking my call,” I said. “I’ve just been reading about you. I’m calling about the Bernie Sanders visit. I’m wondering how it all came about, and whether you think there is a chance Bernie may actually meet the Pope. And if I might have a chance tomorrow to meet with Bernie Sanders and have a brief interview with him. Do you know if that could be arranged?”

“I’m not handling any of those details,” Shank said. “That’s a matter for the press office.”

He said he didn’t have much time. We exchanged emails. He said he had to go to attend another meeting.

That was the extent of our conversation.

So the full story of how this invitation came about remains to be told.


More on Sanchez Sorondo

Sanchez Sorondo is a prolific scholar. He has written dozens of articles over the years. But what is his main focus of study?

It is the question of human freedom.

Starting with Thomas Aquinas, and going back to Aristotle (whom Aquinas called “The Philosopher”), and forward to Hegel, Sanchez Sorondo has studied and written on “a positive notion of spiritual reality beginning with the human experience of superior activities such as feeling, thinking, wanting and enjoying.”

And “the main and new conclusion was that man, because he is free, i.e. causa sui, is his own cause in the order of the re-creation not only of his own growth but also of the communication (κοινωνια) of divine grace to another human being, to a ‘you’ who freely wants that grace.”

Here is the summary of his scientific research from the webpage of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (link):

Summary of Scientific Research of Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo

My early work centred around an innovative examination of the primary function of the idea of participation in the core theological approach of St. Thomas Aquinas, especially with regard to the crucial point of the question of the “participation (of man) in the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4).

The main and new conclusion was that man, because he is free, i.e. causa sui, is his own cause in the order of the re-creation not only of his own growth but also of the communication (κοινωνια) of divine grace to another human being, to a “you” who freely wants that grace.

As a subsequent follower of the contemporary philosophical current which seeks the “rehabilitation” of Aristotle, I emphasized that the “Stagirite” was the first to expound a positive notion of spiritual reality beginning with the human experience of superior activities such as feeling, thinking, wanting and enjoying.

Aristotle did this through his meta-categories of power (δυναμις) and energy (ενεργεια) which, although they serve initially to explain movement, subsequently allow a metaphysical explanation of the living human subject, of the suffering and acting “self” — a question discussed in detail by modern philosophy.

Drawing upon the most recent developments in critical research into the structure of the thought of Aristotle (N. Hartman, P. Ricoeur and my teacher C. Fabro), I examined the different interpretations of this philosopher, especially those propounded during the medieval period by Thomas Aquinas and during the modern era by Hegel.

In his Encyclopaedia (482) Hegel rightly observes that no concept has been more subject to misunderstanding than that of freedom, which expresses the essence of the spirit.

This was the new anthropological idea that the classical world, including Aristotle, was light years away from.

For this reason, I have recently argued, “realised freedom” or freedom achieved by the truth (John Paul II) became the new criterion for the hermeneutics of history, culture and religions.

I also proposed that realised freedom, as a real quality of the human being and not mere potentiality, should be the criterion to be employed in the analysis of Christian history.

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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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  1. says

    What about the photo of my Holy Pope doing high5 on a picture and an other photo of the Pope with a little boy with Logo of Bernie’s Campaing….wow Mr Sanders really decived me here….
    Sincerely
    A true Catholic

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