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Bernie Sanders extols 'moral economy' in Vatican speech

By Eric DuVall
Bernie Sanders extols 'moral economy' in Vatican speech
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, seen here speaking at a rally in New York City, arrived in the Vatican on Friday to deliver a speech on economic justice. The trip comes as he trails Hillary Clinton in polls in New York, which votes on Tuesday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

ROME, Vatican City, April 15 (UPI) -- Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders arrived at the Vatican on Friday, delivering a speech underscoring his core message that America needs to build a "moral economy."

The overnight trip comes hours after he and his rival Hillary Clinton engaged in an often-hostile debate Thursday night, and just days ahead of the crucial New York primary.

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"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," Sanders told the Pontifical Academy on Social Sciences conference. "It is an issue that we must confront in my nation and across the world."

The origins of the Vatican trip were questioned, with one official there saying Sanders fished for the invitation to address the organization, which advises Pope Francis on issues of social justice. Other Vatican officials, including Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the academy, denied Sanders sought the Vatican audience.

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Instead, Sorondo said he reached out to the Vermont senator because Sanders has mentioned so many of Francis' teachings on the campaign trail.

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"We invited the candidate who cites the pope the most in his campaign, and that is Sen. Bernie Sanders," said Sorondo, who is close to Pope Francis.

Speaking outside the conference, Sanders told the media he was proud to have had the opportunity to speak at the Vatican.

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"I am just so excited to be here, so proud to be here, with other like-minded people who are trying to do our best to create a moral economy," Sanders said.

A papal spokesman said Sanders would not be granted a private audience with the pope and Francis would not be in attendance at the conference. Instead, the pope was scheduled to leave for a visit to Greece on Friday.

Sorondo demurred, saying it was impossible to rule out Sanders and the pope running into one another during Sanders' trip to the Vatican.

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Early press reports of the trip did not indicate whether the two had met.

The decision to travel to Europe in the midst of a crucial primary campaign was not without controversy. Sanders trails Clinton in the delegate count and in polls in New York. The trip to the Vatican will cost Sanders about one full day of campaigning in New York -- and including Friday, there are only four days left before New Yorkers vote on Tuesday.

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A big loss there could all but doom his hopes of catching up to Clinton in the pledged delegate count.

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The trip has its political upside, as well. While advisers promised no politicking in Rome in Sanders' speech, Catholics make up a significant percentage of the Democratic vote in New York and Pennsylvania, which votes next week.

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