Donald Trump issued a blistering response to Pope Francis on Thursday, saying it is “disgraceful” for the Catholic leader to question his faith and calling the pontiff “a pawn” for the Mexican government.
“No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith,” Trump said at a rally in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. A press release followed shortly after he read the statement at the podium.
Moments before Trump’s rally was set to begin, Francis told reporters, "A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
Building a wall on the United States' southern border is one of the main tenets of Trump's candidacy.
The pope's comments came during his flight back to Rome after a six-day visit to Mexico. Trump, who told a crowd of supporters that he “liked the pope” before learning of the statements, said the Mexican government manipulated Francis.
“They are using the pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant,” Trump said. The real-estate mogul said Francis has only heard “one side of the story” and does not see the problems caused in the U.S. by illegal immigration.
Trump’s Social Media Director took to Twitter to call out his perceived hypocrisy of the pope calling Trump out for wanting to build a wall when the Vatican is surrounded by them.
"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 added.
During his comments, however, the pope said he was not trying to influence Americans on who they should vote for, adding only that “this man is not Christian if he has said things like that."
Francis remains wildly popular among Catholics, who make up about a quarter of the general electorate. A CNN/ORC Poll released ahead of the pope’s visit to the United State last September found that nearly three-quarters of Catholics held a positive view of Francis.
Other Catholic Republican presidential candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have found themselves at odds with Pope Francis over immigration and climate change. However, both have attempted to make clear they disagree with some of his ideas while showing respect for the leader of the Catholic church.
Trump, who is not Catholic, did not take such a measured response.
“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian,” Trump said.
Trump however, who is currently leading in South Carolina, has repeatedly questioned Ted Cruz’s Christianity. Days earlier he tweeted: "How can Ted Cruz be an Evangelical Christian when he lies so much and is so dishonest?"