Pope meets with Bernie Sanders, thanks him for addressing Vatican on the 'moral economy'

The Jewish senator decried the "immoral" gap between the world's rich and poor that he said was worse than a century ago.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Pope Francis (photo credit: REUTERS)
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Pope Francis
(photo credit: REUTERS)
VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis met US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Saturday morning before leaving for a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, a participant at the meeting said.
Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs told Reuters that the meeting took place in the Vatican guesthouse where the pope lives and where Sanders had spent the night after addressing a Vatican conference on social justice.
The Vatican had said before the conference that a meeting was not planned. Sachs said Sanders, who was accompanied by his wife, and the pope spoke for about five minutes. Sachs, his wife and a Vatican official were also in the room.
Sachs, who has advised the United Nations on climate change, said Sanders thanked the pope for his pronouncements on the need for morality in the global economy and statements in defense of the environment.
"The pope thanked the senator for coming to the meeting and for coming to speak about the moral economy," Sachs said.
Asked if the meeting could be interpreted as political, Sachs said: "This was absolutely not political. This is a senator who for decades has been speaking about the moral economy."
In an address at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on Friday, Sanders decried the "immoral" gap between the world's rich and poor that he said was worse than a century ago.
The Vatican conference marked the 25th anniversary of Centesimus Annus, an encyclical on the economy and social justice after the fall of communism promulgated by the late Pope John Paul II.
The Democratic hopeful from Vermont has campaigned on a promise to rein in corporate power and level the economic playing field for working and lower-income Americans whom he says have been left behind, a message echoing that of Pope Francis. 
“Twenty-five years after Centesimus Annus, speculation, illicit financial flows, environmental destruction and the weakening of the rights of workers is far more severe than it was a quarter century ago,” said Sanders, an Independent from Vermont. “Financial excesses, indeed widespread financial criminality on Wall Street, played a direct role in causing the world’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”
The issue of wealth and income inequality “is the great economic issue of our time, the great political issue of our time and the great moral issue of our time,” he said.
“In the year 2016, the top 1 percent of the people on this planet own more wealth than the bottom 99 percent, while the wealthiest 60 people – 60 people – own more than the bottom half – 3 1/2 billion people. At a time when so few have so much, and so many have so little, we must reject the foundations of this contemporary economy as immoral and unsustainable.”
The Jewish senator, who spoke for 10 minutes, seemed full of energy despite flying overnight from New York after debating his rival for the Democratic nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Some political commentators criticized him for leaving the state while trailing Clinton, the front-runner in the contest, in polls ahead of voting there.
He defended the trip to reporters and a small group of supporters, who mobbed him outside the Vatican after his speech. The supporters chanted “Bernie, Bernie” and held “Feel the Bern” signs.
“I know that it’s taking me away from the campaign trail for a day, but when I received this information it was so moving to me that it was something that I could just simply not refuse to attend,” Sanders said, smiling in the afternoon sunlight.
He said he was “so excited, so proud to be here with like-minded people trying to create a just economy.”
Sanders lauded Pope Francis for his advocacy of economic justice and his “enormously important” role in speaking out against climate change. He underscored that the phenomenon “is real and caused by human activity” and slammed “the greed of the fossil fuel industry,” which he said was “destroying our planet.”