As the presidential race heats up and election day approaches, informed voters are scrutinizing every candidate’s actions and statements. Voters look for candidates with strong religious ties, and a new Pew Research Center survey finds that being an atheist remains one of the riskiest liabilities that a presidential candidate can have. But what about getting in a religious war with the Pope?
While flying back to Vatican City from Mexico City on Wednesday, February 17th, Pope Francis inserted his opinions into the Republican presidential race. Pope Francis suggested that Donald J. Trump, “is not Christian” if he calls for the deportation of undocumented immigrants and pledges to build a wall spanning the entire width of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” the Pope told journalists, when asked for his opinion on Trump’s ideas to halt illegal immigration.
Trump has pledged to build an estimated $8 billion wall along the United States’ southern border, promising that Mexico has no choice but to pick up the tab; not the U.S. taxpayers. Trump has also said that, if elected president, he would eject some 11 million undocumented immigrants from the country. Trump told CNN last June that “You have people coming in, and I’m not just saying Mexicans — I’m talking about people that are from all over that are killers and rapists, and they’re coming into this country.” Trump has taken radical stances on immigration, guns, foreign policy, and taxes.
According to ABC News, the Pope’s criticism of Trump was prompted by a reporter who asked: “Can a good Catholic vote for this man?” ABC’s account notes that the Pope demurred on that aspect of the question, by saying: “About whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”
Trump immediately fired back, “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question a person’s faith, is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian,” he said in a Feb. 18 press release. Trump added that the government in Mexico, where Francis spent the past five days, has “made many disparaging remarks about me to the Pope.” Trump went on to say that, “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president.”
By Thursday evening, Trump had become less aggressive. “I don’t like fighting with the Pope,” Trump said at a Feb. 13th GOP town hall debate hosted by CNN in South Carolina. “I like his personality; I like what he represents,” he said, before going on to point out that the Pope has an “awfully big wall” himself at the Vatican.
That may be true, Catholic priests said, but Vatican City also has an awfully big door. James Martin, a Jesuit Priest, posted on twitter “Yes, the Vatican does have walls, and some are quite large. But anyone can stroll through the Pope’s front yard, St. Peter’s Square, at nearly any time. Only metal detectors stand between the iconic landmark and the millions of tourists who come to see the historic headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.” “In other words, Vatican City may have walls, but the front door is always open,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Catholic priest and editor-at-large at America Magazine.
Trump argued that the Mexican government was using the Pope as a pawn and they should be, “ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant.”
This is not the first time that the Pope has involved himself in politics and taken a progressive stance. Pope Francis is forward-thinking and has changed the Catholic church’s stances on multiple topics, including the LGBT community, as he once stated “If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”
As he prepared to leave, Pope Francis thanked Mexicans for opening their doors and their lives to him. “At times, I felt like weeping to see so much hope in a people who are suffering so much.”