UPDATE: 12:20 p.m. EDT — Pope Francis said his brief meeting with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders did not amount to political meddling, Reuters reported.
"When I came down, I greeted him, I shook his hand and nothing more. This is called good manners and it is not getting involved in politics," the pope told reporters on the flight from the Greek island of Lesbos, where he visited a refugee camp.
"If anyone thinks that greeting someone is getting involved in politics, I recommend that he look for a psychiatrist," he said, laughing.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders announced Saturday that he met Pope Francis in the Vatican as he was in the city to attend a meeting about social justice and economic issues, reports said. Following the meeting with Sanders, the pope left for the Greek Island of Lesbos in an effort to focus on the problems of the refugees hoping to enter Europe.
A source told Washington Post that the meeting was not just a chance encounter but was planned for Friday evening. The report also said that the meeting was supposed to remain confidential. Sanders had told the Post last week that he admired the pope and wanted to meet him, but nothing was set so far. The Post added that discretion over the meeting could be so that the pontiff could avoid the perception that he was endorsing Sanders or getting involved in American politics.
“We had an opportunity to meet with him this morning,” Sanders said in an interview to the Associated Press (AP), adding: “It was a real honor for me, for my wife and I to spend some time with him. I think he is one of the extraordinary figures not only in the world today but in modern world history.”
Sanders also said, according to AP, that the meeting was held at the papal residence. “I told him that I was incredibly appreciative of the incredible role that he is playing in this planet in discussing issues about the need for an economy based on morality, not greed,” Sanders said, adding: “His message is resonating with every religion on earth with people who have no religion and it is a message that says we have got to inject morality and justice into the global economy.”
Sanders defended the meeting by saying that it should not be viewed as the pope pushing himself into the political campaign, a reason why popes avoid visits to countries during the heights of campaigning.
“The issues that I talked about yesterday at the conference as you well know are issues that I have been talking about not just throughout this campaign but throughout my political life. And I am just very much appreciated the fact that the pope in many ways has been raising these issues in a global way in the sense that I have been trying to raise them in the United States,” Sanders said, according to AP.
The invitation, news of which came out last week, was questioned while it was alleged that Sanders lobbied for the meeting. However, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the chancellor for the pontifical academy, said that Sanders had been invited because he was the only presidential candidate who was deeply interested in Pope Francis’ teachings.