The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, has issued a clarification regarding the Pope’s remarks to journalists Thursday, when he said, in answer to a question about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, that a person who only thinks of building walls and not about building bridges is no Christian.
Aboard the plane returning from Mexico to Rome, the Pope answered Reuters reporter Phil Pullella by saying, “I would only say: if he said these things, this man is no Christian. But we’d have to see whether he said these things. And in this matter, I would give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Since news reports bore headlines suggesting that the Pope had denied Trump’s Christianity, and other comments by the Pope had also caused some confusion, the papal spokesman released a statement Friday in an effort to clarify what the Pope was trying to say.
Lombardi said that Pope-watchers know that Francis is always repeating that we should not build walls but bridges. “He repeats this over and over, constantly, and he has also said it many times regarding the issue of migration in Europe,” he said. “So it is not a specific issue, limited to this case” but part of his general attitude, consistent with “following the Gospel directives of welcome and solidarity.”
The spokesman also insisted that the Pope was not intending a personal judgment on Trump, or trying to tell Catholics how to vote at the upcoming election.
“This case drew a lot of attention,” Lombardi said, “but he never intended it to be in any way a personal attack or an instruction on how to vote. The Pope has made it clear that he would not meddle in the voting issues in the election campaign of the United States.”
The priest said that media reports often overlooked that the Pope had said that his words “depended on the accuracy and truth of what he had been told regarding the Republican candidate’s positions, thus also giving him the benefit of the doubt.”
Some, such as Catholic League founder William Donahue, have suggested that the Pope had been “set up” and that his positions were misrepresented.
Donahue said that Pullella told the Pope that Trump “wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, thus separating families,” which is “patently false.”
Last August, Trump told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that he was against splitting up families and deporting children. “No, we’re going to keep the families together. We have to keep the families together,” Trump said.
“So the Pope was misled,” Donahue said.
Lombardi concluded his clarification on the issue by saying the Pope’s words should be understood “in the context of his well-known stance regarding receptivity and building bridges instead of walls, which is characteristic of this Pontificate.”
Which, for some, may be a distinction without a difference.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.