Businessman and presidential candidate Donald Trump lashed out at Pope Francis on Thursday evening, calling the pontiff “a very political person” and accusing him of being coopted by the Mexican government to support immigrants.
In an interview with Fox Business Network, Trump was asked about Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico, where he intends pray with undocumented immigrants and immigration activists and celebrate Mass along the U.S.-Mexico.
“The pope is a very political person,” Trump said. “I think he doesn’t understand the problems our country has. I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico.”
Trump then implied that the Mexican government forced the Holy Father to take a stand on immigration.
I think Mexico got him to do it.
“I think Mexico got him to do it because Mexico wants to keep the border just the way it is because they’re making a fortune and we’re losing,” Trump said.
In reality, Francis, who is from Argentina, has been an outspoken advocate for immigrants rights throughout his papacy. He has condemned anti-immigrant hatred, surprised 2,000 immigrants living in a shelter with Christmas presents in 2013, and his first visit outside of the Vatican as pope was to Lampedusa, a Mediterranean island that harbors North African migrants traveling to Europe. He also sent a personal letter to a group of Arizona teens volunteering to help immigrants in the United States and thanked them for their work.
And while Trump famously opposes allowing Syrian refugees — and Muslims in general — to enter the United States, last year Pope Francis called on every Catholic parish in Europe to take in a Syrian family seeking asylum, and even said that churches who refuse should be required to pay property taxes because he does not see them as genuinely religious.
This isn’t the first time Tump has criticized the pope, whom the real estate mogul also says he “likes.” When Francis visited the United States last summer, Trump told CNN that if the pontiff ever spoke with him about the dangers of capitalism, he would reply — inexplicably — by saying “ISIS wants to get you. ISIS wants to invade the Vatican.”
Trump, who claims to be Presbyterian but is not an active member of any church (Presbyterian or otherwise), has repeatedly faced missteps when it comes to religion throughout his campaign for president. He has flubbed attempts to explain communion, told reporters he does not ask God for forgiveness because he doesn’t believe he’s making mistakes, has been unable to name his favorite Bible verse, and evoked laughter when speaking to a group of evangelicals by mistakenly referring to what is often called Second Corinthians as “two Corinthians.” Trump later blamed the Corinthians mistake on Tony Perkins, saying the leader of the Religious Right wrote the number two on his speech (Trump was apparently unaware that the book is almost always written “2 Corinthians,” but referred to differently).
Trump has also had trouble comprehending basic aspects of Christian liturgy. When he mistakenly sat through a Presbyterian service in Iowa that included a sermon about welcoming immigrants and refugees, Trump told reporters he assumed the church chose the Bible verses to coincide with his visit, apparently unaware that scripture passages for Presbyterian worship are decided years in advance. And when he visited another church the next Sunday, Trump almost put money into the communion plate, mistaking it for an offering plate.
Despite his spiritual slips, Trump does enjoy robust support from a certain subset of evangelicals: the ones that don’t go to church that often.