Bernie Sanders Won't Be Only Socialist at Vatican Conference

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Bernie Sanders won't be the only socialist in attendance at the Vatican later this week. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Later this week, academics, theologians and world leaders will assemble in Rome to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's Centesimus Annus, an encyclical celebrating the collapse of Communism in Europe. In it, the Polish-born pontiff lauded free markets and criticized socialism.

Among the guests: Bernie Sanders, the son of Jewish parents who fled Nazi persecution in Poland.

The list may be short on Brooklyn natives, but Sanders won't be alone among the socialists, a reflection of the left leaning views of Pope Francis, who has put his stamp on the church’s social policies just as he did with its family policies in last week’s mammoth encyclical.

In attendance will be two socialist heads of state from Latin America, a handful of left-leaning economists and Sanders, who describes himself as a "democratic socialist."

Sanders, the only U.S. politician invited to speak, will be joined by presidents Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Evo Morales of Bolivia. Correa, 53, first gained international attention as Ecuador's minister of finance in 2005. He won the presidency in 2006 with a platform of disempowering entrenched elites. The country's GDP has grown every year since, and Correa remains popular for his refusal to repay Ecuador's debts—which he called "immoral"—instead allowing the country to default. Ecuador repaid its first foreign loan in 2015.

Correa has praised Sanders. "He is 74 years old and has the support of young people. Why? Because he is iconoclastic, he is against Wall Street, against the big transnationals. He is saying what people want to hear," Correa said in an interview with Ecuadorean state TV. Correa also praised Hillary Clinton, but said she was "more with the establishment." Still, either would be better than Republican front-runner Donald Trump, Correa said.

Morales is Bolivia's first indigenous head of state, and has held that title since 2006. The 56-year-old recently asked Bolivian voters to let him run for a fourth term in office, but was rebuffed. His reforms designed at reducing the influence of the U.S. and multinational corporations have been popular, but his administration has been plagued by scandals. Sanders was part of a congressional delegation to visit Bolivia in 2014.

On Friday, Sanders, a longtime fan of Pope Francis, said he was "delighted" to be invited to speak at the Vatican alongside Correa and Morales.

Also joining the trio will be Jeffrey Sachs, an American economist at Columbia University. Before becoming an outspoken critic of the Clintons, Sachs pushed "shock therapy" economics during the collapse of the USSR—policies also favored by Bill Clinton. In an editorial in the Huffington Post, Sachs called Clinton "the candidate of Wall Street" and "the candidate of the military-industrial complex." Elsewhere, he has called the Clintons "the ultimate schmoozers." Sachs backs Sanders for president.