The Pope, Donald Trump and Immigration

Pope Francis today made comments seen by many to have direct relevance to the U.S. presidential campaign.:

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis said when a reporter asked him about Mr. Trump on the papal airliner as he returned to Rome after his six-day visit to Mexico.

The Pope subsequently modified his remarks:

Asked whether he would try to influence Catholics in how they vote in the presidential election, Francis said he “was not going to get involved in that” but then repeated his criticism of Mr. Trump, with a caveat.

“I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that,” Francis said. “We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”

Of course it would be highly unethical for a person, let alone a religious leader, to comment on another person’s Christianity without giving the other person an opportunity to explain and/or defend himself for remarks he has made or what others have accused him of saying. Though the Pope should be credited for giving Trump the benefit of doubt, his statement is nonetheless inadequate. As a religious leader, he should have said, “I need to hear all of his remarks in context, and I would need to speak to him personally for clarification before issuing an opinion on the substance of said remarks.”

Of course, it is perfectly acceptable to offer an opinion on immigration from what the Pope considers a Christian perspective, and it is acceptable to say that Person X’s comments do not correspond with Christianity, but to publicly hint that such a person is not even a Christian is excessive. I can even see somebody saying that said person did an unchristian thing, but to allege that he is not a Christian seems way too harsh, especially from somebody who preaches tolerance and compassion.

Francis made his remarks about Mr. Trump barely three hours after he had concluded his Mexico trip by presiding over a huge Mass in the border city of Ciudad Juárez. He first walked to the edge of the Rio Grande — as American security officers watched from the other side — to lay flowers at a new memorial commemorating those who have died trying to cross the border.

Francis then celebrated Mass, as a crowd of more than 200,000 people stood barely a stone’s throw from the border and listened to the pope call for compassion for immigrants fleeing chaos, poverty and war.

Okay…but did the Pope remark on the unjust situation in Mexico that is causing people to flee their own country? Did the Pope criticize Mexico’s very strict immigration policy? Did he issue a call urging the Mexican government to do something about poverty and corruption? I hasten to add that he may have said such things, and if so, I’d love to read about it. If not, then his consistent overt or covert criticisms of the United States ring hollow. If people were fleeing the United States, would the Pope have choice words for our policies which cause people to flee? The Pope does little to advance his interpretation of the Gospel when he can apparently ignore the injustices all around him.

Surprisingly, some of Trump’s opponents have issued statements in response to the Pope’s remarks:

UPDATE: Jeb defended Trump and a border wall. “I think the Pope said Trump is un-Christian. That’s between him and his Creator … it is not un-Christian to protect your border, to keep people out who come here illegally.”

UPDATE: Rubio pushed back against Pope: “Vatican City controls who comes in, when they come in, and how they come in, as a city-state. The United States has a right to do that, as well.”

Yes, and the Vatican has a high wall marking its boundaries too. You shouldn’t complain about walls if you have them yourself. If the Vatican has a problem with walls, perhaps its walls should come down before condemning others for either having them or wanting to build them. If the Pope doesn’t like our immigration policy, he should first change the Vatican’s very strict immigration policy to reflect what he recommends for the rest of the world. It’s called leading by example and taking the beam out of one’s own eye before presuming to remove the mote out of somebody else’s.

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