Posted on February 19, 2016

Trump Triumphs over the Pope: Francis Backs Down over ‘Not Christian’ Claim as Vatican Says It Was Not a ‘Personal Attack’

David Martosko, Daily Mail, February 19, 2016

The Vatican today executed a speedy climb-down in its feud with Donald Trump–handing the Republican White House hopeful a major political victory.

Pope Francis’s suggestion that Trump was ‘not Christian’ because of his views on immigration was not a personal attack on the candidate, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said on Friday.

Lombardi told Vatican radio that the pope’s comments, which were denounced by Trump, were simply an affirmation of his longstanding belief that migrants should be helped and welcomed rather than shut off behind walls.

He also leaned toward confirming Trump’s contention that his statement that Trump was ‘not a Christian’ was based largely on ‘what he was told’ about the billionaire’s position.

Trump said Thursday that he suspected the Mexican government had propagandized to the Pontiff about him, prompting the unusual condemnation from the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics.

‘This wasn’t in any way a personal attack, nor an indication of who to vote for,’ Lombardi said.

‘The Pope has clearly said he didn’t want to get involved in the electoral campaign in the US, and also said that he said what he said on the basis of what he was told [about Trump], hence giving him the benefit of the doubt.’

But in the same breath, Lombardi defended the Pontiff’s statement from Thursday and declared that he had said nothing new.

‘The Pope said what we already know, if we followed his teaching and positions: We shouldn’t build walls, but bridges.’

‘He has always said that, continuously,’ he added. ‘He also said that in relation to migration in Europe many times. So this is not a specific issue, limited to this particular case.’

‘It’s his generic view, coherent with the nature of solidarity from the Gospel.’

Trump continued the quick about-face on Friday morning in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, praising the Vatican for walking back the Pontiff’s criticism–although he seemed under the impression that Francis himself had spoken on the subject.

‘The Pope was great. He made a beautiful statement this morning,’ he told a capacity crowd at the Myrtle Beach Sports Center, an indoor rec center the size of eight basketball courts.

‘They had him convinced that illegal immigration is, like, a wonderful thing!’ Trump exclaimed, referring to Mexico’s government.

‘Not wonderful for us. It’s wonderful for Mexico. Not wonderful.’

Trump repeated his well-worn refrain that America’s southern neighbor will pay for a lengthy border wall, and pointed out an audience member dressed as a construction worker, complete with hard hat and tool belt.

The man carried a sign that read: ‘I’m ready to work on the wall!’

‘We give massive subsidy to Mexico,’ Trump said. ‘The wall is going to cost 10 to 12 billion bucks. Our trade deficit is like $58 billion.’

‘Mexico is going to pay for it, folks. It’s so easy. It’s so easy.’

The olive branch of sorts from the Vatican came less than 24 hours after the Pope’s explosive intervention in the presidential campaign.

Asked about Trump and his plan to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. to stop illegal immigration, he called said that a man with such a plan was ‘not Christian.’

‘A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,’ he said.

‘This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said 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 has said things like that.’

His answer promoted an immediate and furious denunciation from Trump, as well as a massive backlash on social media, where the Pope was mocked for living in the Vatican, itself a walled city-state.

Trump’s aides helped him craft a biting reply–which he said took ‘one minute’ to write. He read it from a podium during a late-morning speech in coastal South Carolina.

By day’s end the conflict drew Trump’s Republican rivals out of the shadows, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio–the presidential race’s two Roman Catholics–backing The Donald over The Pontiff.

‘For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,’ Trump said in South Carolina, just two days before the state’s critical presidential primary election.

He doubled down on that comment when he spoke to at lunch.

Trump issued a furious response, reading a lengthy statement from the podium on a campaign stop in the coastal community of Kiawah Island.

He reflected on the seismic impact of crossing swords with the leader of the world’s largest religious denomination, and shrugged it off.

‘Now it’s probably going to be all over the world. Who the hell cares? I don’t care!’ he said. ‘We have to stop illegal immigration . . . and crime.’

Trump blasted the Vatican for what he said was a naive outlook on the ISIS terror army, saying in a statement released to reporters 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 because this would not have happened.’

‘ISIS would have been eradicated unlike what is happening now with our all talk, no action politicians.’

Trump partisans, including his social media director Dan Scavino, circulated photos of the massive wall that separates Vatican City from the rest of Rome.

‘Amazing comments from the Pope–considering Vatican City is 100% surrounded by massive walls,’ Scavino wrote in a highly retweeted message.

And reporters swarmed around the rest of the presidential field looking for reactions to the global cultural battle royale.

Rubio told reporters during a press conference in Anderson, South Carolina, that he had not seen the Holy Father’s full statement, but defended the Republican Party’s line–essentially, Trump’s position–on immigration.

‘There’s no nation on earth that’s more compassionate about immigration than we are,’ Rubio said.

Noting that the U.S. takes in a million immigrants a year, he declared that ‘Mexico doesn’t do that. No other country in the world does that.’

‘We’re a sovereign country. We have a right to control who comes in, when they come in and how they come in,’ he added.

‘Vatican City controls who comes in, when they come and how they come in, as a nation-state, or a city-state. And as a result, the United States has a right to do that as well.’

Bush also rushed to Trump’s defense and insisted that no one should determine the validity of another person’s faith in God.

‘I think his Christianity is between he and his creator. Don’t think we need to discuss that,’ Bush told reporters in Columbia, South Carolina, according to CBS News.

The campaign straggler did throw a shoulder at Trump for his boasts about ISIS, suggesting the billionaire isn’t prepared to mount a serious military campaign against the terror army.

‘As it relates to his policies related to ISIS, he’s not the right guy to be commander-in-chief,’ Bush said.

But there were signs Thursday night that Trump wanted to bury the hatchet and move past the conflict.

At a CNN town hall, he emphasized that the Pope’s comments were exaggerated by early media reports.

‘I think he said something much softer than what was originally reported by the media. I think that he heard one side of the story, which is probably by the Mexican government,’ Trump said.

‘He didn’t see the tremendous strain that the border is causing us with respect to illegal immigration, [and] with the drugs pouring across the border.’

The Donald said he would be interested in a sit-down with Francis to hash out their differences.

‘I’ll do it any time he wants. I mean, it would be very interesting,’ he said.

‘I like him. I mean, I like him as a personality. I like what he represents. And I certainly have great respect for the position.’

Cooper chuckled at recalling a 2015 Iowa event during which Trump told a skeptical audience of evangelical Christians that asking the Almighty for forgiveness wasn’t a common ritual in his faith life.

‘Was there a moment when you first heard the Pope had said something about you, that you thought, ‘Maybe I’m gonna have to ask for forgiveness?” Cooper asked him.

‘No,’ he replied, as the studio audience laughed along with him.

‘No. Look, I have a lot of respect for the Pope. I think he’s got a lot of personality. He’s very different. He’s a very different kind of a guy. And I think he’s doing a very good job. He’s got a lot of energy.’

‘But I’d say that I think he was very much misinterpreted. And I also think he was given false information.’

Trump said he wished Francis had ‘heard our side, the side from people who live in the United States.’