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Vermont senator Bernie Sanders was invited to the Vatican, but not by Pope Francis. The Vermont senator was invited to speak at a conference held by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, an academy founded by the Vatican.

“The invitation was made on behalf of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, not by Pope Francis,” said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi to The Daily Beast on Sunday. “There is no expectation that the pope will meet Mr. Sanders.”

But even within the academy, there is disagreement over who invited Sanders. The academy’s chancellor, Sanchez Sorondo, explained why he invited Sanders to a conference where some 30 academics would be present.

“We are interested in having him because we have two presidents coming from Latin America. I thought it would be good to have an authoritative voice from North America,” Sorondo told Bloomberg. He said the decision to reach to Sanders was made “quite some time ago.” A copy of the invitation obtained by The National Catholic Review is dated March 30.

In a subsequent interview with the publication, Sorondo defended the invitation by noting that both Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa were attending the conference. “I don’t know what is the problem,” he said. “We have two presidents from Latin America, and we don’t have a problem. And we have a problem because we invited one candidate to the White House of your country? It’s a little impossible to understand.”

But Margaret Archer, the academy’s president, said that Sanders had effectively invited himself. “Sanders made the first move, for the obvious reasons,” Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. “He may be going for the Catholic vote but this is not the Catholic vote and he should remember that and act accordingly — not that he will.”

Sanders trip will take place just four days before the New York primary, a crucial race in which he must perform well to stay a serious contender for the Democratic nomination. A third of the state’s population are Catholics, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.

Regardless of how Sanders was invited, much of his rhetoric has involved championing the cause of the poor, fighting racism and bigotry, and criticizing capitalism as it is practiced today — just like the pope, Sanders frequently points out.

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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