The Pope Pops His Cork

Pope Francis excommunicates Donald Trump! Or does he?

Phil Pullella, Reuters: Today, you spoke very eloquently about the problems of immigration. On the other side of the border, there is a very tough electoral battle. One of the candidates for the White House, Republican Donald Trump, in an interview recently said that you are a political man and he even said that you are a pawn, an instrument of the Mexican government for migration politics. Trump said that if he’s elected, he wants to build 2,500 kilometers of wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, separating families, etcetera. I would like to ask you, what do you think of these accusations against you and if a North American Catholic can vote for a person like this?

Pope Francis: Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as 'animal politicus.' At least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don't know. I'll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people. And then, 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. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.

Needless to say, the immediate headline on TVs and newspapers all across the fruited land was "Pope Says Trump Is Not A Christian!!!"  Rolling Stone magazine even held forth with this preposterous assertion:

In Trump's case, it doesn't take a pope to know he's a terrible Christian. I'm Jewish, and don't believe in God, and even I feel confident saying it is so.

What on earth?  Author Jessie Berney, an atheist of Jewish decent, who doesn't believe in the existence of the divine Jesus either as part of his cultural heritage or in his personal convictions, somehow has the insight to decide who is a follower of the Christ who (in his own mind) never existed?  Not only is Mr. Berney self-admittedly ignorant of the religious beliefs he is applying, he clearly has never heard of the logical fallacy Appeal to Illegitimate Authority:

Using an authority as evidence in your argument when the authority is not really an authority on the facts relevant to the argument.

As an intelligent audience, we are confident that our august readers will suffer no temptation to succumb to Mr. Berney's fallacious maunderings.

Pope Francis is a different matter.  At least there is no doubt that he, in his own heart and mind, does view himself as a Christian, and surely it's safe to say that he has some idea of what a Christian is supposed to be.

After all, Catholics believe that, as the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Pope holds the Keys to the Kingdom of God, with full authority "to bind and to loose" - in other words, to literally ban people from Heaven or admit them.  So, to a Catholic, if the Pope says you're not a Christian, you're in deep trouble.

One problem with this: Thanks to a fellow by the name of Martin Luther, there are an awful lot of Christians who don't believe that there is any such thing as a divinely-appointed Pope.  This matters when it comes time to define who's a Christian: whereas a Catholic has to obey the Pope and follow church doctrine, a Protestant is answerable only to God directly, via the Bible.

From the Protestant point of view, the Pope is an illegitimate authority on the subject of who is a Christian.  He's the ultimate authority on who is a Catholic, for sure; but there are many Christians who aren't Catholic and would vehemently deny being Catholic were anyone to ask.  Every literate person in the world ought to be aware of this, seeing that it's been a fundamental geopolitical truth for, oh, the past half-millennium or so.

Walls Within Walls

Why, exactly, did Martin Luther begin the Protestant Reformation and depart the Roman Catholic Church?  Simple - he read his Bible, and found there were many doctrines the Catholics were teaching that weren't found in the Bible at all: confession to priests, indulgences, and oh, yes, the existence of such an office as Pope, amongst 92 other things.  Thus, a fundamental principle of the Protestant version of Christianity is reading the Bible to see what it says, accepting it as final authority on subjects it addresses, and regarding all other authorities as illegitimate.

The Donald has never said he was a Catholic.  Instead, he claims membership in the Presbyterian Church, which is Protestant.  In determining whether he is or is not a Christian, it seems only right to judge him by the standards of the faith he says he holds, which isn't the one the Pope rules over.

When we do as Protestants are supposed to do and look in the Bible... why, looky here!

Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.

 - The Prophet Nehemiah, Nehemiah 2:17

Then there's John the Revelator, describing the Heavenly City where God Himself dwells:

And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates.

 - St. John, Revelations 21:10-13

Hmm - who does this sound like?

I said, we need to build a wall and it has to be built quickly. And I don’t mind having a big, beautiful door in that wall so that people can come into this country legally.

 - Donald J. Trump

In conclusion, when it comes to using border-defense policies to determine the Christianity of politicians, His Holiness is talking through his pointy hat.

Truth and Consequences

Or maybe not: Skip over the banner headline, and read what the pontiff actually said again:

And then, 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.

Is Donald Trump a person who thinks only about building walls?  Obviously not: he's also thinking about building big, beautiful gates, which are the opposite of walls and are the equivalent of bridges.  So, as even the Pope clearly said, Mr. Trump's wall building has nothing to do with Mr. Trump's eternal destiny.

Yet, somehow, our media reported a totally false story, shoveling words into the Pope's mouth with a backhoe.  Why are we not surprised?

Maybe the Pope should spend a few hours watching the Republican debates to learn how the corrupt, lying, biased, venal media ought to be treated.  Mr. Trump could give him a pointer or two.

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments

The Vatican has walls. observes that they were built in 846 AD to repel Muslim invaders.

Mr.Trump has come more than a thousand years late to the wall-building party.

February 22, 2016 10:19 PM

The pope is clueless. If he knew anything, he would realize that he is now considered a Muslim. The Quran is quite explicate that any of many actions such as praying to Allah or toward Mecca qualifies him as a "believer". Really strange that the church didn't recognize his conversion to Islam. St. Peter is rolling over in his grave...

February 22, 2016 11:49 PM

The Vatican is rich, far richer per capita than the US. How much are they giving to these refugees? How many are they taking in?

February 23, 2016 7:21 AM

The Headline Media is part of the Establishment, and thus its pronouncements are anathema to most of the voters who will support Trump. Right now, however, it is most useful for Christians of all stripes to keep their eyes on the ball, so to speak. Christians are beset by medieval-minded Islamists, not by each other. It is not Protestants and Catholics who are killing each other--that hasn't been a problem for centuries. It is Muslims killing Christians who are the problem--and Shia killing Sunnis (and vice versa).
Psychosocially locked into a mind-set created by their atavistic religion, but armed with modern weapons, suicidal muslims should be occupying much more of the Pope's attention than should any American presidential candidate.

February 23, 2016 8:15 AM

The funniest thing about the whole Pope/Trump kerfuffle is how similar the two men are.

Both men are obsessed with their own power, though in fairness that's written into the Pope's job description.

Both men were put in their position on top of the shoulders of others. Trump built his into something greater, but it's statistically unlikely he would have gotten there on his own. The Pope definitely would not have gotten there without the power of others.

Both men are opinionated and routinely tell their followers how to live and what to believe.

Both men believe in (and encourage others to believe in) fantasy, though in fairness Trump's fantasies are mostly of the low-brow Birther/Truther/InfoWars kind. The Pope's fantasies take entire books to chronicle and have created enormous damage and destruction, the world over.

Both men are hypocrites. The Pope criticizes others for building walls while he lives in the most guarded, discriminatory country on earth - surrounded by a huge wall. Trump, well.... finding his hypocrisies is like searching for sand on a beach.

Both men will only gain followers by continuing the above behavior.

February 23, 2016 8:42 AM

Info, please consider your mental health. You see Trump behind every tree and under every rock. You are mental! Sure there are similarities. Both had mothers. The rest is in your imagination.

February 23, 2016 9:12 AM

I can careless how one might engage in mental acrobatics in a comparison of 2 men....(but I think Ifon misses the point of trump entirely.)

If you are a protestant...
Screw the pope. Seriously. Pope whom? The what? Further catholic areas vs protestant areas...look at how they vote. Catholics are notoriously Dem Lever Pullers. Which it makes sense- if ya would rather outsource your salvation to another man (instead of God), it only makes sense that you also would outsource your freedoms to a group of men. How cheap and lazy the Catholics are (in both Faith and Government)

Trump or ANY protestant (for that matter) should have in a full throat-ed manner told the pope to kiss off...and mailed him (the pope) Martin Luther's thesis...better yet...why not nail it to a gate on the Vatican City.

February 23, 2016 9:57 AM

Sparky, this article is about Trump and the Pope, yes? Why then should I not comment about Trump and the Pope?

Sorry to criticize your hero again. If he wins the election, which there's a decent chance of happening, you'll have to get used to people criticizing him. After all, one would be hard-pressed to find a more criticism-worthy "Republican" in recent decades. Grow some thick skin between now and then.

February 23, 2016 10:10 AM

@Jim - The Pope can have an effect on the American presidential election. Can he affect the situation in the Middle East or the hordes of refugees one way or the other?

February 23, 2016 12:26 PM

Hello. I've loved your work for a long time. But "a Catholic has to obey the Pope" is misleading (a Trumpism, perhaps). Not a theologian, but I know that the Pope's authority to order people around or to declare doctrine is quite narrow in scope. Check it out.

p.s. - In certain ways during recent decades many Lutheran congregations have gradually moved back closer to their R.C. friends. Examples: communion was formerly served only about once a month; now at every service. Even ashes on the forehead at the start of Lent!
p.p.s. - In 1996, (I think) a bunch of Lutheran bishops and R.C. cardinals got together and declared that they actually agree on the old "faith/works" issue.

February 23, 2016 12:54 PM

I find nothing wrong with Jessie Berney saying Trump is a terrible Christian. Why must you be a believer to be able to determine that someone else isn't? Do I have to serve in the military to recognize a good or bad soldier? Trump IS a terrible christian, it's pretty damn clear. His time at LibertyU was awkward beyond belief. His references to the bible are forced, out of context and spoken like someone who is reading them for the 1st time. The prominent atheists Hawkins, Harris and Bennett probably know more about the bible, and who is and isn't a devout believer, than your average pastor.

February 23, 2016 1:27 PM

@THR you are confusing church worship with being a follower of Christ. Many an evil person finds it advantageous to own a pew in a church. James 1:27
27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. There are ample stories of Trump privately helping others in the spirit of James without seeking publicity. I will take that kind of Christianity any day over a pew sitter.

February 23, 2016 1:57 PM

Oh I dunno...why should you have to be a member of any organization to be able to make such assertions?

A: To know the subject material enough to be able to make such a statement?

I have no use for glasses, as I have perfect vision - but yet I am going to say who is a good ophthalmologist or an optometrist?

How's that work exactly?

February 23, 2016 2:10 PM

Sparky, I thought of you when reading this:

Please do read it all, maybe twice, and think about it a little.

Matt is 100% right, and it's why debating Trump with his fans is such a painful and pointless exercise.

February 24, 2016 7:16 AM

Mr Ildraz, not only do I disagree, but I think your example neatly proves my point. There are many optometrists who have a deep understanding of the technical details of the human eye even though they don't personally wear eyeglasses themselves, and there are millions of eyeglass wearers who have no understanding of how human vision works whatsoever.

Often, the most ardent members of an organization are the least objective when debating the content of that organization because the members have the strongest need to hunt to continue supporting it. This is a well known human tendency.

I am often amused by those I know in the military who are passionately supportive of outdated or cost prohibitive military technology. Keeping the old stuff is clearly illogical, in light of newer cheaper technology, but the military member continues supporting it because they have a personally connection to or history with the technology. They are unable to be objective. Throughout American history, some of the best military generals have been lousy commanders in chief. Why is that?

Religion is probably the hardest thing of all to be objective about. How many believers accept miracles in their own religion while instinctively rejecting them in someone else's religion? At last count, there have been about 4,000 Gods known to humans across history, all fully real and powerful in their own time. In modern times, nearly all of those have been rejected as myth, except of course for the newer monotheistic ones.

My point is that being a member or believer or follower of something does not make you a more credible source of information about that thing.

(I'm not wanting to begin an argument here. Perhaps we'll agree to disagree?)

February 24, 2016 12:39 PM

Why should I have to read these rantings? You haven't read a single book by Trump and have no perspective to judge by, but I have to read the rantings of a man who has clearly lost it in the past three years. History is not just a snapshot of a certain time and place. It is the development over time of ideas and personalities. To say that people don't change over time shows a certain mental illness and inability to understand people.

February 24, 2016 1:08 PM

How ironic. You refuse to read this simple 5-minute article (just like you refuse to read any of the other links or articles I've forwarded) while you simultaneously and wrongly suggest that I don't listen to or read what Trump says. Classic projection.

First, you're dead wrong - I read his "The Art of The Deal" book back in college and both of his "101" books on real estate. His books are mostly all about business; they have nothing to do with politics, government or his personal beliefs. He wrote a recent book about America, but it came out a few months ago so it's pointless to assume it's anything more than campaign propaganda.

Second, how even MORE ironic that this article from Matt Walsh talks specifically about the very type of knee-jerk hypocrisy, lashing out, and name-calling that... you did here yet again. No, of course you wouldn't read it - why would I expect that you would any more than a North Korean would read literature criticizing Dear Leader.

Third, have YOU read any of Trump's books? Have you heard him write in any of his books about:

- universal health care
- big government
- use of public funds for private enterprise
- tsa
- encryption
- abortion
- the role of the supreme court

If so, please forward the books where he did and (specifically) what you liked about what he said.

I'm guessing like most of Trump's followers, your information mostly involves his Twitter feed?

February 24, 2016 1:26 PM

Mr. T.H.R.

We'll agree to disagree T.H.R. However....You forgot one important YUUUGELY important thing....

In my above example...your counter example assumes I am learned or studied in anything regarding the human eye.
I am no ophthalmologist or an optometrist, and nor have I admitted to it. (you can only go with what you know) (couple that with my no need for glasses) So how would that give me any grounds to write who is a good one, or who is a bad one?

Surely a person who studied the above, and/or has a working knowledge of it, can say word one about it. Cause otherwise...its just considered ignorant and rude (to be coy)

Same with religion. If ya don't practice it, and ya know squat about it cause you don't study can you say if a person is good at it or not? But you are correct on the objective remark. But wrong when coupling it when you toss in Atheism. (no such thing as an objective atheist when talking about religeon...agnostic sure...atheist no)

I have need clarification on this...
"My point is that being a member or believer or follower of something does not make you a more credible source of information about that thing"

What do you mean by information? Cause I am going to listen my auto mechanic about why my internal combustion engine automobile doesn't work before I believe an Amish carpenter.

Reason why I used Amish - is because they have observed cars.

February 24, 2016 6:22 PM

T.H.R. :

You must walk the walk, before you can talk the talk.
Sure. One can be an expert on a subject w/o being a participant in the subject matter. The examples you gave are 100% correct, but they have no relevance here. The closest you came was someone who is not a soldier, judging whether a soldier is good or bad. And you got it completely wrong. Your telling us that someone who is not a soldier, and has never seen combat action, is qualified to stand in judgment of one has who has... hmmph.
Being a Christian is not an exact science like optometrics. No universal definition of what a Christian is. The Bible even discourages Christians from judging one another. So even more foolish does the non believer show himself to be, in taking on the mantle of judge, and condemning another, of who's struggles he really knows nothing about.
The Bible says only God can know the heart of man. Therefore a man's relationship with his God, is between himself and Him.

February 26, 2016 1:42 AM

Did you mean by your Revelation 21:10-13 citation that America is the "heavenly city"?

I hope not, because I'd rather not live with Hillary Clinton as she is :-)

March 22, 2016 9:36 PM

The pope is a pizzant.

"I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber!" John 10:1

So the pizzant pope is calling Christ a non-Christian????

The pope needs to keep his camel nose frm under the political tents if he is going to be soooooo damned liberal.

June 21, 2016 9:39 PM
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