Pope Francis’s comments will only help Trump

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. A bad word from the Pope won't have harmed his cause (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The question posed to Pope Francis was about Donald Trump and the Republican presidential candidate’s promise to build a 2,000-mile wall along the US-Mexico border. And his promise to deport 11 million people who are in the US illegally. Even if it means splitting up families in the process.

The media was looking for anathema sit. What they got from Pope Francis was, “not Christian,” and something about, “the benefit of the doubt.”

Close enough. Headlines were written; stories were filed.

Donald Trump responded by calling the Holy Father’s comments “disgraceful.”

“No leader, especially a religious leader,” Trump huffed, “should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

“Who are you to judge?” might have been more a more apt riposte.

The fact is, Pope Francis’ remarks, and the consequent hullabaloo, are more likely to help Trump politically than hurt him. The Argentine pope makes a convenient foil for Trump, who peddles soft-core nativism to a slice of the population that feels (admittedly, not without reason) that they have been betrayed by the political establishment of both parties. And Trump’s supporters, if not the candidate himself, are not afraid of a bit of old-fashioned, anti-Catholicism.

For the Pope’s part, another apostolic visit has concluded in controversy arising from an off-the-cuff, airborne press conference. The message of mercy and hope delivered so beautifully by Francis this week is being drowned out. Were it not for some easily misinterpreted comments about family planning and the “lesser of two evils,” the Trump story might have succeeded in giving the impression that the Pope’s visit to the world’s second largest Catholic country was really all about American electoral politics!

Instead, we got two big stories coming out of the Pope’s trip to Mexico: US politics and contraception.

Stephen P. White is a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC and the author of Red, White, Blue, and Catholic