The Vatican appears to be quickly walking back a comment Pope Francis made critical of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, saying the pope’s condemnation of wall-building as un-Christian was not a “personal attack.”
Francis grabbed headlines Thursday after telling reporters during a return flight from Mexico that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” The comment was seen as a denunciation of Trump, who has made a pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border a major part of his campaign.
But Friday, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi made a statement clarifying the pope’s comment. He argued Francis was simply restating his general view of the Christian gospel.
“The Pope said what we already know, if we followed his teaching and positions: we shouldn’t build walls, but bridges,” Lombardi said. “It’s his generic view, coherent with the nature of solidarity from the gospel.”
“In no way was this a personal attack, nor an indication of how to vote,” Lombardi added. “The Pope has clearly said he didn’t want to get involved in the electoral campaign in the U.S.”
Lombardi also emphasized Francis had based his remarks on what reporters had told him about Trump, implicitly giving him the benefit of the doubt in case the reporters’ description had been unfair in some capacity.
Francis’s remark inspired a variety of reactions from the American political sphere. Trump quickly fired back, saying Francis would regret his remarks if ISIS assaulted the Vatican and argued it was “disgraceful” to publicly question his Christian faith in such a manner.
“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,” Trump said. “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”
Others, including Trump’s social media director, pointed out that Francis himself lives within the formidable walls of Vatican City.
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