The Improbable Reformers

MOSCOW – Over the last few years, Pope Francis has reinvigorated the Catholic Church’s core message with passionate criticism of unbridled capitalism and a new, more progressive worldview. In the United States primaries, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign is doing much the same for the Democratic Party – and for US politics more broadly.

Sanders’s message borrows substantially from the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement and its call to arms against economic inequality. But even before Sanders emerged as a contender for the Democratic nomination, Francis won the hearts of millions with a similar message.

Francis has denounced the “widening gap between those who have more and those who must be content with the crumbs.” His vision of “a church that is poor and for the poor” has earned him the moniker the “People’s Pope.” It should therefore not be surprising that last year, he invited the author and OWS activist Naomi Klein to attend a conference on the environment that he was hosting in Rome.

This year, Sanders addressed the same gathering, arguing that climate change is the most serious security threat facing the world. His long-held beliefs on the topic mirror those of Francis, who, in a groundbreaking encyclical, aligned himself with the scientific community on climate change. Both Sanders and Francis link environmental degradation to unbridled capitalism, emphasizing that the world’s poorest suffer disproportionately from the environmental impact of activities that often enrich the world’s wealthiest.