Donald Trump is well-known for his public feuds, particularly with Hillary Clinton, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly and fellow GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. But, he may have met his political match in the form of Pope Francis.
Just when it seemed the 2016 presidential race couldn’t get more unusual, one of the most unlikely public feuds erupted when Pope Francis openly questioned Donald Trump’s Christian faith during a flight back to the Vatican from a visit to Mexico.
CNN reported that the Pope said the GOP front-runner was “not a Christian” due to his support for the deportation of undocumented immigrants and his calls to build a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico.
“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 said.
Trump initially fired back by calling the pope’s comments “disgraceful,” as reported by CBS News.
“The pope said something to the effect that maybe Donald Trump isn’t Christian, okay? And he’s questioning my faith, I was very surprised to see it,” Trump said. “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.”
Now, Trump seems to be softening his war of words with the leader of the Catholic Church, though he did imply that the Mexican government must have deceptively influenced the Pope’s opinion of him with false information. Nevertheless, he seemed to want to de-escalate the fight in an interview in a South Carolina town hall.
“I don’t like fighting with the pope actually — I don’t think it’s a fight, I think he said something much softer than originally reported by the media. I think that he heard one side of the story, which is probably by the Mexican government,” Trump told CNN on Thursday.
In stark contrast to previous remarks, Trump called the Pope a “wonderful guy,” and implied that the press was to blame for the entire drama between them.
“I like his personality; I like what he represents,” he added, noting that he would meet with Pope Francis “anytime he wants.”
Trump has never been a public figure to shy away from confrontation; in fact, his campaign seems to be virtually built on it. So, why the sudden change in tone in this feud with Pope Francis? Most likely, it’s due to the Pope’s influence among Catholic voters, which make up a very significant demographic in the American electorate. The Catholic leader’s opinion certainly hold weight in the world, as CNN noted.
“Catholics consider the Pope not only the vicar of Christ, but also the successor to St. Peter, who legendarily holds the keys to the Pearly Gates. But, like most Popes throughout history, Francis is also a political leader. He heads a sovereign state — Vatican City — and meets regularly with world powers. When the Pope made his comments about Trump’s stance on illegal immigration, Francis was returning from Mexico, where he met with government leaders, including President Enrique Pena Nieto.”
It’s common for officials of the Catholic Church to take public positions on political matters, including abortion, birth control and most recently, the Zika virus.
So far, Trump rivals Cruz, Bush and Kasich have refused to criticize or comment on the controversy. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest refused to directly comment, asking that all questions be directed to the Pope’s spokesman.
This news comes as Donald Trump leads by a big margin in South Carolina with only one day left until the primary, though it is not clear if condemnation by the Pope will hurt Trump’s support in the southern state.
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