Con: Pope crosses lines while taking Trump down a peg
Two weeks ago, America witnessed a bizarre spat between two hilariously dissimilar celebrities: Pope Francis and Donald Trump.
During a recent interview aboard the papal airplane, Pope Francis incited a wide range of reactions across the country when when a reporter asked for his opinion of Trump, and Trump’s infamously controversial proposal to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants. The Pope responded, “…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.” He went on to qualify his statement, saying, “We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.” The real estate mogul replied, with a virtuously offended air, that it was “really, not a nice thing to say,” and that “for a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.” The Pope’s single initial comment resulted in a heated media debate concerning the involvement of religion in politics due to Trump’s plan to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants.
However, the issue here is not of religious commentary in politics. For Christians, religion affects every other domain of life, so the Church’s opinion is relevant on many non-religious debates, including the political race. Yet many Christians are indignant about the comment, specifically because he seemed to challenge the candidate’s faith. There exists disregarded context surrounding the situation, however, which clarifies that although the Pope did not mean to accuse Trump of not being Christian, the statement was still a very inappropriate one for him to make.
It is important to note, in advance, that many news sources put excessive emphasis on the phrase “not Christian,” while in reality, Pope Francis’ entire statement regarding Donald Trump was much less aggressive than that single phrase. Most major news sources led with a headline quoting the phrase “not Christian,” making the quote needlessly inflammatory.
Pope Francis has earned a wonderful reputation as a man of great compassion. It is easy to understand his desire to affect change, express his opinion, and encourage acceptance of a topic very close to his heart. As a South American, he cares greatly about issues regarding the well-being of Hispanic and Latino immigrants. Therefore, his urge to use his ability to influence and aid that cause is very understandable.
However, there are centuries of context surrounding his authority as Pope, and the phrase “not Christian” carries a lot of additional meaning, most of it unintentional. It’s is a very common phrase, something that Pope Francis has probably used many times throughout his life. It’s probable that the Pope did not mean to say that Donald Trump is not a Christian, but that he’s not exhibiting Christian values. It was not a question of faith’s existence, but a criticism of its bearer’s actions.
Unfortunately, in Catholicism, Pope Francis happens to be the one person on the planet who can actually decide if someone’s Christian or not. Catholic popes have the ability to excommunicate people who they deem unfit to remain in the Church, although the ability has not be exercised in many years.
Excommunication is essentially saying that someone is no longer a Christian. In addition, Catholic faith also has a concept of papal infallibility. Basically, this is a belief that the Pope, on subjects of faith or morals, cannot be wrong, and so every Catholic has the obligation to obey him. So his position as the ultimate authority on what is or is not Christian adds significance to the phrase “not Christian.”
In this vividly theatrical political race, criticism of Donald Trump has become routine, even from the Vicar of Christ. The Pope’s unfortunate wording allowed news media to invent a headlining squabble between the two characters, adding yet more drama to this political popularity contest and distracting from the real issues.