I would like to begin by stating that I love Pope Francis. The pope is a holy man who takes seriously his compassion for, and responsibility to, humanity. If you wish to see my pope-loving credentials, please click here and here for recent examples. However, it’s becoming too common that he says something which has me burying my face in my hands. After I read these statements I know immediately people are going to ask me, their ‘Catholic friend’, “so what’s up with your pope”.
The pope gave one of his in-flight interviews as he traveled home from Mexico. The interview covered a range of issues. He gave powerful statements against abortion and a solid answer on why the divorced and civilly remarried cannot receive Communion.
The problem–with all due respect to the Holy Father–lies in the fact that he commented on the American presidential election wrongly and dangerously. Let me first say that I don’t like defending Trump and I am not a supporter of his presidential campaign as a whole. But the pope’s response when asked what he thought of Donald Trump has many people who otherwise wouldn’t be defending Donald doing just that. Let’s discuss what the pope said exactly.
“This Man is Not Christian”
I believe, as the pope acknowledges, Francis has limited knowledge of the current election battle brewing in the USA. When the Reuters reporter asked if a Catholic can vote for Trump, he included the information that Trump wants to build a wall along the boarder of Mexico. Working with that information, the pope responded that he wouldn’t get involved by telling an American how to vote but added:
[…] a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. […] 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.”
His vague-yet-pointed comments are confusing many Catholics and non-Catholics alike and gave Donald Trump a hanging curve ball to knock out of the park. Trump responded, calling the pope “disgraceful”, going on to say in a press release:
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 is right (is “thanks, Francis” going to be the new “thanks, Obama”?). ISIS’s prized trophy is the Vatican and the Vatican’s boarders need to be (and are) secure in order to keep dangerous elements out. Donald later, amazingly, deescalated the fight saying that he doesn’t want to fight with the pope, blaming the controversy on how the media portrayed it.
The pope just swatted down the very real concerns of a group of people that regularly deal with being mocked in the media, are openly made fun of on TV, and are called bigots by the political Left. If popular culture makes fun of Christians for being Christian and then the pope implies if they want a secure border they cannot be Christians, where are they to turn anymore? Think about that. He just basically forced these people to come to terms with the unfortunate fact that their beliefs on an issue are more aligned with a reality show blowhard who they might find repulsive instead of the leader of Christianity.
This debate would be different if Francis opined on other positions of Trump’s. There wouldn’t be the same controversy if the Bishop of Rome suggested that being in favor of funding Planned Parenthood or [previously] supporting late-term abortion is un-Christian. We wouldn’t have this level of debate if he mentioned how having four wives, not thinking one needs to ask God for forgiveness, opening casinos with strippers, wanting to temporarily ban an entire religion from immigrating, seeking to abuse eminent domain, or completely missing the Gospel message (more on that in a bit) might be un-Christian. The thing Francis is calling Trump out for, simple border security with a legal path to citizenship, is something fully in line with the Catechism and something that helps secure religious liberty in America. Since when is this a controversial issue? Francis’ off-the-cuff comments not only bolster Trump, it set himself up for ridicule via meme online–not the best way to evangelize the Millennials!
CCC 2241 […] Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.
Is Trump a Christian?
So is the the pope right about Trump not likely being a Christian? Probably, but for the wrong reason. Donald Trump enjoys a strong lead in the ever-coveted Evangelical voter base despite him even pretending to have a coherent notion of basic Christianity.
Trump speaks often about how much good he will do for Christians in the country which he very well could succeed at by the mere fact he’s not afraid to be politically incorrect. But none of this means he actually understands or lives according to any sort of Christian philosophy.
Trump was raised a Presbyterian. When he was asked if he ever has had to ask God for forgiveness, and speaking of Communion, he said, “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so, I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t. When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness”. Oy.
On Fox News, Bill O’Reilly asked him if, since he’s a Christian, he should consider “turning the other cheek” and forgiving Megyn Kelly despite his differences. After concurring with Bill that that would probably be the right thing to do, he spouts “well, it’s called an eye for an eye I guess also, you can look at it that way…” before Bill reminds him of the difference between the Old Testament and New. Video Below.
Yet despite plenty of un-Christian baggage carried by Trump, the simple notion of border security simply can’t be included.
The Growing Rift Between Political Conservatives and Christianity
It is no secret that our country is becoming more secular and part of that is because many political conservatives are becoming more secular. Indeed the American Right tends to be more friendly towards Christianity compared to the other end of the political spectrum, but to what extent? There is a growing segment of conservative voters whose support is simply lip service inasmuch as Christianity fits into the parameters of their own political orthodoxy. So to say, these people appreciate the parts of Christianity that line up with their already-set political ideology. What the pope just did was create more of these Republicans with his overly-simplistic Anglican-esque sentimentalism. When the pope speaks recklessly on an issue, he turns off people to any future moral message he may have, let alone the Catholic Faith itself.
More and more voters who wear the badge of Christianity are beginning to view their religion as the positive social product of sound political philosophy. Quite the contrary, sound political philosophy is in fact the outcome of a solid Christian foundation (found wholly in the Catholic Church). So when the pope seemingly attacks someone for a policy that, at its core, not only isn’t wrong but even works to defend the very reason America is so attractive, he diminishes the authority of the Church in the eyes of people who have legitimate social concerns.
If America is so Wrong, Why do People Even Want to Come Here?
I try to avoid coming down on Francis for the statements he makes about capitalism because he can be right about the materialism of a”throw-away culture” that so often is symptomatic of the economic structure. But just because some people abuse the fruits of a good concept does’t mean the entire concept is bad. At some point people wonder why his target always seems to be America’s economic system. The pope was in communist Cuba recently, where Christians are literally killed and countless Catholic churches have been destroyed at the hands of the Castros. The pope never opined that any of the bad actors there were “not Christian” (not to say he doesn’t think so). The pope was just in Mexico where they apparently lead the world in murdered priests, along with an extremely violent drug trade problem and poor economic conditions. But the pope, to my understanding, only spoke about American politics instead of the contribution of corrupt Mexican politics to these problems. Many of their citizens, understandably, want to come to America. But why?
If the apparent perils of our economic system and hardened hearts are so bad, why would these people even want the proverbial “bridge” the pontiff references? Obviously everyone already knows the answer which is why his comments made eyes rolls, faces get palm’d, and put people like me in the obnoxious position of actually having to defend the Donald.
Pope Francis has a lot on his plate right now with the Catholic Church. Faithful Catholics are begging him to focus on the important issues the Church faces and are confused why he doesn’t have similar language for many politicians in DC who openly have no problem with partial-birth abortion, are increasingly anti-religious freedom, are pro-euthanasia, or promote policies that contribute to the disintegration of the family. Oddly, it’s often the same politicians that enjoy posing for photos with the pope. Come on. Where has the powerful moral authority of the Church, of the Petrine Office, gone?
Pope Francis is a Good Man
These criticisms are solely in the context of a reverent respect for Francis. His compassion and love for humans is inspiring. Indeed his heart is not hardened like that of so many people. However, having a tender heart need not come at the expense of having rational thought. Out of all the issues he could have called out Trump on he instead chose an issue that ended up being a big pile of dog crap for his pontifical Puma to step directly into.
St. Peter, please pray for the Vicar of Christ, that he keeps up the good fight against the throwaway culture and the overwhelming indifference of the world to the despair of humanity. Pray that he stays safe and healthy while leading our Church. Please also intercede for the United States of America, that we are able to view our political ideology as a proper reflection of Christian philosophies rather than the other way around. Amen.