Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump fired back at Pope Francis Thursday, predicting that the Islamic State will attack the Vatican and the pontiff will rue the day that he said Mr. Trump isn’t a Christian if he wants to deport illegal immigrants.
The real estate mogul also said it was “disgraceful” for a religious leader to level that accusation.
“I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president because this would not have happened,” Mr. Trump said in a statement issued after Francis said Mr. Trump’s idea to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico was not Christian.
Mr. Trump said he’s “proud” to be a Christian and that the Mexican government is using the pope as a pawn.
“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” Mr. Trump said. “I’m proud to be a Christian, and as president, I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now with out current president, OK? Believe me.”
“No leader — especially a religious leader — should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith, especially when they feed all sorts of false information into him,” he said. “They’re using the pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves — that’s the Mexican government. They should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved, and when illegal immigration is so rampant and so dangerous and so bad for the United States, OK? Period. That’s it. Period.”
Asked about Mr. Trump’s views on immigration, the pope said Thursday that anyone who wants to think only about building walls isn’t Christian. Mr. Trump has frequently pledged to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and he says he’ll get the Mexican government to foot the bill.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” the pope said. “This is not in the Gospel.”
Not having heard Mr. Trump’s border plans independently, the pope said he’d “give him the benefit of the doubt.” But he added:
“I’d just say that this man is not Christian if he said it this way.”
Asked if he felt he was being used as a pawn of Mexico, the pope said he didn’t know.
“I leave that judgment to you, the people,” he said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father is an evangelical pastor and who has made his appeal to Christian voters a major focus of his campaign, declined to weigh in.
“That’s between Donald and the pope. I’m not going to get in the middle of that,” he said.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.