Inserting himself into the Republican presidential race, Pope Francis on Wednesday suggested that Donald J. Trump “is not Christian” because of the harshness of his campaign promises to deport more immigrants and force Mexico to pay for a wall along the border.
“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.
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.”
However, in his direct addresses to the Mexican people, the pope has touched less on universal themes and more on ideologically-charged issues that tend to fall under the rubric of liberation theology, a tendency that was fought vigorously by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during the papacy of the former.
On Monday, the pope prayed before the tomb of Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, former prelate of the diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas, a controversial figure famous for his perceived support for neo-Marxist movements in the state of Chiapas, where a military uprising allegedly inspired by his highly politicized pastoral approach took place in the mid-1990s. Ruiz was reputed to encourage a syncretistic approach to indigenous cultural practices, seeking to promote indigenous traditions rather than teaching the gospel to the locals, and resulting in a mixture of pagan and Catholic practices among the Maya of the region that remains to this day. His emphasis on politics was so strong that the sacraments were reportedly neglected by his activist clergy; membership in the Catholic Church plummeted and 30% of children in his diocese were reportedly unbaptized when he left office. He also publicly associated with notorious condemned exponents of liberation theology, such as ex-priest Leonardo Boff and others.
Ruiz’s activities were regarded as so subversive of Catholic doctrine that he was denounced in a letter to the Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico by Cardinal Bernadin Gantin, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops, and consequently asked to resign by the nuncio in 1993. However, he refused to do so and held out until his 75th birthday, submitting his resignation in accordance with the Code of Canon Law in 1999.
The pope’s embrace of one of the major figures of liberation theology in Mexico follows his eyebrow-raising acceptance of Marxist symbols mixed with the figure of Christ in July 2015, when President Evo Morales of Bolivia gave the pope an image of Christ crucified on a hammer and sickle, the traditional symbol of communism embraced by the former Soviet Union. The pope, who brought the image back with him to the Holy See, explicitly acknowledged in a press conference during the trip that the image was the creation of the neo-Marxist Fr. Luis Espinal, who had embraced a form of liberation theology in the 1980s that was later condemned. Although Francis seemed to distance himself from the Marxist intentions of the symbol, his acceptance of the gift was the cause of much consternation in Latin America.
Me, I think being called “not a Christian” by this Pope, however conditionally, can only help Trump. Chances are that American Catholics of the political right who are inclined to support Trump will see his denunciation by Francis as a sign that he (Trump) is on the right path.
UPDATE: This is true:
The Pope is right about Trump for the wrong reasons. Let’s move on, now.
— Michael B Dougherty (@michaelbd) February 18, 2016
It is interesting to consider that Francis is all “who am I to judge?” when it comes to gays and lesbians, but is willing to read people out of Christianity for opposing open borders to immigration.