Donald Trump responded forcefully Thursday to comments from Pope Francis that anyone who wants to build a border wall isn’t a Christian, saying a religious leader questioning a person’s faith is “disgraceful.”
The Republican front-runner for president, who has promised to build a wall along the Mexican border from Texas to California and expel 11 million people who are in the country illegally, accused the Mexican government of using Francis as a “pawn” and said the leader of the Roman Catholic Church “only heard one side of the story.”
The pope made his comments en route home from Mexico, hours after he prayed at the Mexico-U.S. border for migrants who died trying to reach the United States. When asked about Trump’s promise to build a wall, Francis said: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another Republican presidential contender, has also supported building a border wall, and joked that he will make Trump pay for it.
Not having heard Trump’s border plans independently, Francis said he’d “give him the benefit of the doubt.” But he added: “I’d just say that this man is not Christian if he said it this way.”
Trump said the Pope should wish that he is elected to the White House: “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
Trump went on to say that “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”
The back-and-forth came as Republicans face South Carolina’s high-stakes primary on Saturday. Polls indicate that Trump has a large lead in South Carolina and other states. The Democratic race remains close, with Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders facing off in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.
Another win for Trump, or Sanders, after their New Hampshire victories would indicate that they are contenders who can’t be dismissed.