‘Trump picks fight with Pope’, was one headline I read this morning. Commentators were saying it was foolhardy, or possibly brave, of the Republican frontrunner to take on Francis during a primary season in which so many Catholics will be casting their votes.
I’m not convinced. This is one fight that Trump didn’t start. Pope Francis was asked, mid-flight from Mexico, about Trump’s plan to build a wall to keep illegal immigrants out of the United States. He replied that anyone who wanted to do that wasn’t a Christian. At which point Trump started fuming about how outrageous it was that his Christian faith should be called into question.
Can you blame him? Trump may be a master opportunist, not least when the subject of his religious convictions is raised, but it’s hard to imagine any politician denounced in this offhand fashion deciding not to hit back.
We need to bear in mind one crucial detail. Francis made his sweeping comment about the incompatibility of wall-building and Christianity without knowing the details of Trump’s proposal. He admitted as much.
In this era of uncontrollable demographic change, it’s increasingly difficult to judge whether any immigration policy is Christian or un-Christian. It’s downright impossible if your judgment is formed without a basic grasp of the facts. So why did the Pope allow himself to be drawn into this debate?
Perhaps because he couldn’t help himself. Whether discussing theology or current affairs, the current successor of Peter enjoys improvising. He is quick to form an opinion on any subject he’s asked about. (In a compendium of unlikely quotes, ‘No comment’ from Pope Francis would be up there with the winning entry from a New Statesman competition: ‘Pull its wings off’ – Mother Teresa.)
At the same time, however, he doesn’t watch television or read newspapers. So who supplies him with information about American politics? My guess is that he relies on the chatter of senior Catholic clergy hostile to the United States and especially the Republican Party, of whom there is no shortage.
Anti-Americanism is Jorge Bergoglio’s abiding political prejudice. Formerly a vehement anti-Communist, he has had an ‘intimate and familial’ encounter with Fidel Castro, the veteran murderer of Catholic priests; he has found a new friend in the Russian Orthodox puppet of an ex-KGB tyrant.
Donald Trump, however, is slapped down as ‘un-Christian’ with a carelessness worthy of Trump’s own philippics.
Admittedly, Francis is not the first modern pope to impose his personal geopolitical worldview on his office. In helping to demolish the Soviet bloc, St John Paul II drew on the experience of decades of ingenious opposition to Poland’s communist rulers.
But any comparison of the anti-Communism of Wojtyla and the anti-Americanism of Bergoglio quickly breaks down. The former was a nuanced and exceedingly well-informed response to monstrous dictatorships. The latter is based on a caricature of the United States – a country that, despite living for three quarters of a century in the Americas, Bergoglio had not visited until last year.
Argentina’s snooty and defensive contempt for America stretches back a long way. It draws on several sources, including the half-baked quasi-fascism of Peronism, the anti-US prejudices of European settlers such as the Pope’s Italian father, and the simplistic rich-North-versus-poor-South economic analysis that swept Latin America in the 1950s.
Unlike Polish anti-Communism, Argentinian anti-Americanism has achieved nothing. And now it has been transplanted to the Vatican by a pope with an alarmingly high estimation of his diplomatic expertise.
To repeat: Pope Francis has a policy of not keeping up with the media, preferring his news to be filtered by a kitchen cabinet of advisers who share (and, arguably, manipulate) his prejudices. As a result, he has a special knack for producing unintended consequences. For example, it’s hard to believe that he wanted his tweaking and goading of the Synod on the Family to have quite such a divisive effect.
His latest outburst is no exception to this trend. Only on person will benefit from it, and that is Donald Trump.
I would appreciate seeing the entire quote from Pope Francis in your article, and not just the pull outs from MSM. If you read the entire quote, the pope said that he didn’t know Trumps position. If the position was build a wall only, then that would go against the CCC, if the position was build a wall and a bridge (or you might could say door) then that’s not a problem. The Pope didn’t know Trump’s position, so he would give him (Trump) the benefit of the doubt. The Pope did not pick the fight, the media set him up for misquoting him again. That is of course my paraphrase. Here is the full quote as I have found on other sites. “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not 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 is man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and I will give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Julie simply the fact is that journalists will always go to the simple kernel of the matter – this Holy Father who has the making of a great Pope – is I am afraid is much to flippant.
What needs to be added is that Pope Francis has several times before said that “building bridges not walls is a Christian duty”:
These go back to 2014. Hence the bridges-and-walls trope has long been in his mind independent of and before the current election campaign.
Us Americans take very unkindly to foreigners trying to interfere in our elections. It would do well for the Pope to remember that if Trump wins he has the Justice Department and the Catholic Church has dirty hands.
Charles, this American is grateful for the comments of Damian Thompson and other insightful “foreign” journalists — sometimes they see more clearly from a distance. Deal Hudson
The Department of Justice in the United States has been extremely charitable to the happenings within the Catholic Church over many decades. It is time for a complete and total culpability within the Catholic hierarchy for many injustices committed, cover-ups stipulated and ineffective admissions of responsibility in the Church. It is time to stop using the Church as a, “get out of jail free card,” and assume total responsibility for crimes against minors committed over the years.
Hugh J.McNichol IV
This is a good article. Notice how Damian Thompson’s articles usually always bear fruit.