Donald Trump took a break from attacking his rivals in the GOP primary race on Thursday to go after one of the globe’s most beloved figures, Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
The pontiff had criticized Trump’s immigration proposal. According to the New York Times, Francis was asked about Trump’s harsh rhetoric on immigration, and particularly his proposal to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to prevent illegal immigration. “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” he said.
The pope went on to add, “I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”
Francis, a Jesuit priest formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is originally from Argentina. He made the remarks after completing a six-day trip to Mexico that included a visit to the Rio Grande River, which divides that country from the US, where he laid flowers at a memorial to those who have died attempting to cross.
Trump responded in a rambling press release issued not long after news outlets began reporting the pope’s comments. The Republican presidential frontrunner called Pope Francis a “pawn” and said it was “disgraceful” of him to question Trump’s adherence to Christian values.
The Trump campaign statement began with a prediction by the billionaire former reality television star that the Vatican would eventually be overrun by the terror group ISIS.
“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 because this would not have happened,” it read. “ISIS would have been eradicated unlike what is happening now with our all talk, no action politicians.”
(In an interesting aside: The wording of Trump’s release seems to concede in advance that he will never actually be president of the U.S.)
Trump went on to suggest that the pope had been hoodwinked by the Mexican government into believing a one-sided story about illegal immigration to the US.
“The Mexican government and its leadership has made many disparaging remarks about me to the pope, because they want to continue to rip off the United States, both on trade and at the border, and they understand I am totally wise to them,” Trump said.
Finally, he took aim at the pope himself.
“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as president I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now, with our current president. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith. They are 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.”
Trump is currently running for president in a country that is home to tens of millions of Roman Catholics. However, his campaign has a Rasputin-like ability to survive things that would kill other candidates in the space of a single news cycle, so there’s no obvious reason to think that insulting the pope will do him much damage at all.