It’s common for some to criticize Pope Francis’s wariness about capitalism, but Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump just took that to a new level, saying he’d try to “scare” the pope by telling him: “ISIS wants to get you.”
The comment came when CNN’s Chris Cuomo presented Trump with a hypothetical situation during an interview Wednesday. What if, Cuomo said, Trump met the pope, and — through a translator — the pope expressed a belief that capitalism can be “a real avenue to greed, it can be really toxic and corrupt.” How would Trump respond, Cuomo asked.
“I’d say ISIS wants to get you,” Trump said. “You know that ISIS wants to go in and take over the Vatican? You have heard that. You know, that’s a dream of theirs, to go into Italy.”
“He talks to you about capitalism, you scare the pope?” Cuomo asked.
“I’m gonna have to scare the Pope because it’s the only thing,” Trump said. “The Pope, I hope, can only be scared by God. But the truth is — you know, if you look at what’s going on — they better hope that capitalism works, because it’s the only thing we have right now. And it’s a great thing when it works properly.”
Pope Francis, who is scheduled to visit the United States in September, has at times provoked economic conservatives during his two-year papacy. He has called trickle-down economics an “opinion, which has never been confirmed,” and this spring is publishing a major document blaming over-consumption and unrestrained capitalism for everything from family pain to global warming.
“I have great respect for the Pope,” Trump said in Wednesday’s interview. “I like the Pope. I actually like him. He’s becoming very political, there’s no question about it. But I like him. He seems like a pretty good guy.”
The Vatican’s chief spokesman in January dismissed reports that terrorists might focus on the Vatican. In March, however, the head of the Vatican City police and security service said “the threat exists.” He also noted that authorities didn’t know of a specific plot to attack either Pope Francis or the Vatican, according to reports.
Trump has previously discussed his faith. During a Q&A last month, he said “I love God and I love my church,” but also said he has never asked for forgiveness from God. “People are so shocked when they find … out I am Protestant. I am Presbyterian. And I go to church and I love God and I love my church,” he said. He posted a photo on Instagram of his confirmation class at First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, New York.
“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” Trump said, according to CNN. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”
Popes never respond directly to domestic political campaign rhetoric — at least outside Italy — and even the more-informal, spontaneous Francis is unlikely to address Trump’s comments.
Occasionally, his advisers might engage, such as in June when Cardinal Peter Turkson, a Francis confidant who runs the Vatican’s social justice arm, chastised presidential candidate Jeb Bush. Reacting to a Francis document about global warming, Bush, who is Catholic, said he doesn’t get economic policy ideas from his priests or pope. Turkson called Bush’s comments “unfortunate.”
Addressing partisan politics would be dangerous for U.S. church officials, as U.S. Catholics are split — 48 percent are Democrat or lean that way while 40 percent lean GOP.
Francis’s powerful statements against capitalism and global warming, however, have shaken things up a bit, with church leaders trying to figure out how to embrace his words while not getting too into the nitty gritty of policy recommendations.
The Rev. Thomas Rosica, an English language spokesman for the Vatican, declined to comment Thursday morning. A call to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was not immediately returned.
However, the Rev. Robert Sirico, a leading U.S. conservative who founded the free-market-promoting Acton Institute, said Trump’s comments are unhelpful. And Sirico is part of a crowd that has been critical of Francis’s comments on the economy.
“My gut reaction to that is, if you want this pope to respond to a concern you have, you do not say it in the way [Trump] just said it. Culturally that is an offensive, boorish way of communicating, especially to a pope,” he said. “And I would suspect it will confirm every negative stereotype this pope would have about American businesspeople.
“It’s like a lot of things with Trump – he has some ideas worth considering, but the packaging in which it comes – he’s used to being, how would you say it? It’s his bravado. He can feel the response to him when he’s saying things that are blunt and he gets addicted to it.”
Asked whether the Vatican would pay attention to a comment from Trump or other candidates, Sirico said: “I think the Americans [church leaders] will be paying attention. They’ll be at dinner, and it will be: ‘He said this or that,’ but there wouldn’t be any close monitoring. I’ll tell you right now, his entourage is saying: ‘Do not comment on Donald Trump because you’ll get into a mudslinging match’ and that is not this pope’s style.”
(This story has been updated to identify Trump’s religious affiliation.)