The Domus Santa Marta is a five-story hybrid hotel/dormitory within the Vatican City. It has about 130 rooms, and except during papal conclaves–when it houses all the participating cardinals–about half the rooms are occupied by Vatican staff. It is also used by members of Pontifical Academies when they have meetings and conferences in Rome. It is also used to house guest speakers, such as Henry Kissinger (who, like Bernie Sanders, was invited by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, under the chancellorship of Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, to speak at a PASS conference).
The Vatican has an official residence for the Pope, in the Apostolic Palace. But Francis, breaking with tradition, decided against living in the papal residence, and chose to live instead in Domus Santa Marta. Francis does, however, still use the papal residence in the Apostolic Palace for reciting prayers to people assembled St. Peter’s Square, and for official audiences, such as with visiting church officials and to meet with foreign political leaders.
Today’s daily release from the Vatican press office contained no mention of a meeting between the Pope and Sanders. But press reports based on statements from the Sanders campaign say the Pope and Sanders did briefly speak Saturday morning.
This may have been an intentionally “unintentional” bumping-in-to as humorously depicted in an episode of The West Wing. But I don’t think so. Let’s look closely at the AP report:
Sanders said it was a brief meeting at the papal residence.
The official papal residence, in which Francis does not reside, but where he holds official audiences? No.
Sanders and wife, Jane, stayed overnight at the pope’s residence, the Domus Santa Marta hotel in the Vatican gardens, on the same floor as the pope. They were seen at the hotel reception, carrying their own bags.
So no, it wasn’t an official meeting, it occurred in the same facility which lodges speakers to Papal Academies, be they Bernie Sanders, Jeffrey Sachs, or Henry Kissinger. It is not the official papal residence, but the dormitory/hotel where the pope has chosen to live in community with other Vatican staff.
Was it something done intentionally by the Pope’s personal staff or the Secretariat of State? Possibly, but unlikely. Look where it happened:
Sachs said Sanders and his wife Jane met the pope in the foyer of the domus as the pope was leaving for Greece. The meeting lasted for about five minutes, Sachs said.
If it was an actual meeting, would the papal staff planned for it to take place out in the open? Especially when Sanders’ room was on the same floor as the pope’s? The pope’s staff could have just quietly walked Sanders down the hall and they could have spoken in the pope’s suite. Instead, this happened in an open space, which presumably the pope traverses when walking between his room and the day’s destination, which today included a flight to Greece to join the Patriarch of Constantinople to meet refugees on Lesbos.
This is what likely happened: Jeffrey Sachs, maybe with a tip from Sorondo, knew the pope would have to walk through the lobby of the Domus to get in to his car. So like groupies following a band, or a twelve year old wanting an autograph on a baseball card, they waited in the lobby for an opportunity to stop the celebrity so they could tell people “He met the celebrity!” [but without scoring a photo of the encounter].
If in fact Sanders hung out in the lobby waiting to stop the pope on his way to Greece, it was incredibly self-absorbed and an obnoxious distraction for the pope, who was surely much more focused on addressing a profound crisis (with what turned out to be a dramatic and powerful act). Furthermore, if Sanders waited around to pounce on the pope as he was trying to leave for Greece, is that a dignified way for a presidential candidate to behave? Is this the conduct and judgment of someone who aspires to be the commander in chief of our armed forces and the diplomatic and political leader of the most powerful country on Earth?
UPDATE: The pope’s description pretty much tracks with what I suspected and described above. Sachs tried for a while to say Sanders had been requested, but in a passive way, probably to avoid having to admit what he finally admitted, that Sorondo told Bernie to wait in the hallway with him so they could greet the pope on his way out the door.