Maybe it is a revelation to some Americans, but unlike in America where religious leaders attempt run the government like politicians, the Pope of the Holy Roman Catholic Church is not a politician. He is fundamentally the highest ranking priest in the Catholic Church whose focus is the Christian religion and Catholic dogmata. With the job of ministering to over 1.2 billion adherents worldwide, and overseeing thousands of clergymen, the last thing Pope Francis has on his mind is American politics; until last week.
By now it is week-old news that Senator Bernie Sanders “was invited by the Vatican” to have a conversation with the Pope; at least that is what Senator Sanders said on MSNBC and confirmed on “The View.” However, according to Father Federico Lombardi, “Senator Sanders was not invited by the pope, but by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences” (PASS); PASS is a school, not the Church.
At this point, it is apparent that not only did “the invitation” not come from Pope Francis, or the “Secretariat of State” or any Vatican authority that invites “heads of state” or accepts outsiders’ “request for a Papal audience;” Senator Sanders will not meet the Pope. The so-called “Vatican invite” was from the chancellor of PASS, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo. What Vatican officials and political observers are not entirely clear about is exactly who in the Sanders’ campaign “pushed” Bishop Sorondo for the invitation to speak at the school’s conference.
Insiders are suspicious that a Sanders consultant, Jeffrey Sachs, and Michael Shank, a communications consultant who has worked with Sachs were behind pushing for Sanders to be invited to speak for 10 minutes at the school conference; not the Vatican and not with the Pope. Both Sachs and Shank have done work for the Vatican in the past and it informs how they were able to press for what they labeled an “official Vatican invitation.” Politico even quoted Mr. Shank as admitting he occasionally handles press relations for the Vatican. Shank still claims the invitation was an official Vatican one; apparently everybody is lying at the Vatican.
The President of PASS, Margaret Archer, was beside herself and said that for Senator Sanders to ask for an invitation to a school conference without going through her “was a monumental discourtesy.” Even though her signature was nowhere to be seen on “the official” invitation to speak at the school; Bishop Sorondo said President Archer was lying and that she concurred with his decision to invite a presidential candidate.
According to a theologian, Catholicism scholar, and Vatican expert Massimo Faggioli, “it is noteworthy that this latest episode developed while there is a transition at the office of the apostolic nuncio (diplomat) to the United States.” The transition from Carlo Viganò, who the Pope forced to retire over the “Kim Davis” ambush, to French immigration advocate, Christophe Pierre is still ongoing.
Mr. Viganò was in Rome when the “invitation to the Vatican” news broke and Vatican watchers are flummoxed that not one U.S. bishop, no-one at the office of the “apostolic nuncio” and no-one at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State was aware of, or in communication about, the “unprecedented” invitation from the Holy Father leading them to conclude the official Vatican invitation was not an official anything.
As was announced yesterday by Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, “the Holy Father will not be meeting with the candidate, Bernie Sanders.” Mr. Faggioli said this “Sanders’ invitation episode is reminiscent of the Kim Davis episode during Pope Francis’ visit to the United States in September.” Apparently this Pope is a quick study and was not getting caught flat-footed again by American politicians.
Another Vatican expert, publisher and editor of Inside the Vatican magazine, Robert Moynihan, said that indeed, Michael Shank had been in Rome to speak at the same school Senator Sanders is scheduled to speak at a couple of weeks before the “invitation” was announced. Moynihan related that Shank was “quite transparent about his antipathy toward Hillary Clinton and his lack of respect for Obama’s presidency;” details not surprising to Americans aware of the growing animus towards Democrats.
Mr. Moynihan recounted phoning the school to get details from Bishop Sorondo himself about the Sanders invitation from the Pope after the big announcement last weekend. He did not get to talk to the Bishop alleged to issue the invitation; instead he was connected directly with Michael Shank the communications director who likely helped push for an invitation to the school he still claims is the Vatican.
Perhaps because a former Fox News character from America is running the Pope’s public relations, first conservatives and now a Democrat’s campaign misread the Pontiff’s intentions regarding American politics. It is true that Pope Francis has changed the “style of the papal office” in talking about social and economic justice issues and not just scripture and verse, but he has not been very happy about being dragged into, or ambushed by, American politics.
Apparently, a few people “associated” with the Vatican, and some American publicity seekers, labor under the delusion that they can push or use the Pontiff to further their particular agenda. The more one investigates and learns about this particular debacle, the more it appears to be a repeat of the Kim Davis secret meeting with Pope at the Holy Fathers’ request.
According to Mr. Faggioli, the alleged “invitation broke an unwritten rule of wise diplomacy; do not interfere with an electoral campaign and do not risk disappointing or antagonizing the eventual winner.” He also said it violated a pattern typical of Francis’ relationship with politics in general and politicians in particular; he insists on keeping a healthy distance.
As a Pope, he does interact with politicians as world leaders such as presidents, prime ministers, and chancellors, but he does not invite a candidate for a chat in the middle of a campaign. Vatican insiders are discovering that this “Pope does not like at all to be pushed” and he does not like being used as a political tool.
One wants to believe that Senator Sanders had no hand in inviting himself to speak at the school, PASS, and that it was the work of his campaign acolytes behind his back. If that is the case, then the Senator has to get some honest staffers to run his campaign and a press officer to verify every last statement he makes is going to be true; especially on national television. This is the second time the Senator made statements without vetting their veracity; first claiming Hillary Clinton said he was unqualified when she did not, and now that the Vatican invited him to come and speak with the Pope.
Political campaigns can be dirty affairs, but they should not involve a religious leader; much less one of the Pope’s stature. Particularly when the Vatican was just releasing the Amoris Laetitia and the Pope is meeting with refugees and the Patriarch of Constantinople in Greece on Saturday. The last thing the Pontiff needs is distraction that this episode delivered.
As Mr. Faggioli stated, “The parties involved have underestimated the sensitiveness of relations between the Holy See and the United States. And, with the papacy of Francis at a particularly delicate moment, the episode certainly does not make things easier for Pope Francis.” Mr. Faggioli must understand that these are American politicians and activists; making things easier for the Pope is like expecting them to make things easier for a tool, which looks more and more like all the “Vatican invitation” and Pope was intended to be.