WASHINGTON — No candidate has spoken positively about Pope Francis on the presidential campaign more than independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, currently running second in national polls of the Democratic presidential primary.
On Wednesday, his campaign was silent when asked about news that Francis met with Rowan County Kentucky clerk Kim Davis. A top aide declined to comment on the meeting or if it would change how Sanders discusses Francis on the campaign trail when asked by BuzzFeed News.
In Iowa over the weekend, Sanders stepped up his Francis shout-outs on the campaign trail, opening remarks at a Latino Heritage Festival in Des Moines with praise for the pope. Sanders has been effusive when it comes to Francis, calling him "one of the great moral and religious leaders of our time and in modern history" in a Sept. 24 CNN appearance.
Sanders has acknowledged his differences with Francis over issues of abortion rights (Sanders favors legal abortion) and marriage equality (Sanders has been supportive of expanded rights for LGBT Americans for decades.) But he generally downplays those issues when discussing Francis, saying the pope's economic progressivism and climate change activism is more important.
Hours after the pope addressed Congress earlier this month, Sanders's campaign sent out a fundraising email to supporters that captured the senator's tone when it comes to Francis:
...I am emailing you today to discuss Pope Francis in the hope that we can examine the very profound lessons that he is teaching people all over this world and some of the issues for which he is advocating.
Now, there are issues on which the pope and I disagree — like choice and marriage equality — but from the moment he was elected, Pope Francis immediately let it be known that he would be a different kind of pope, a different kind of religious leader. He forces us to address some of the major issues facing humanity: war, income and wealth inequality, poverty, unemployment, greed, the death penalty and other issues that too many prefer to ignore.
Update: Sanders communications director Michael Briggs told BuzzFeed News Sanders has been consistent on his disagreements with the pope.
"The senator made clear in interviews and comments last week that there are areas where he has differences with the church, including gay rights and women's rights," Briggs said.