VATICAN CITY — Some in media are speculating about how Catholic GOP presidential candidates and Catholic voters will respond to yesterday’s “dust-up” between Pope Francis and Donald Trump on the issue of immigration and the measure of a man’s Christianity.
Last October, Aleteia spoke with Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, about his recent book, God or Nothing. Cardinal Sarah was appointed prefect of the Congregation by Pope Francis in 2014.
One issue the Guinean Cardinal touches upon in the book is the scope of papal authority.
In the interest of providing some clarity and insight amid the media frenzy, here below we publish a full and accurate translation of the question posed during the inflight press conference, by Reuters reporter Phil Pulella, and Pope Francis’ full response.
We also republish the portion of our interview with Cardinal Sarah, regarding how the faithful should rightly understand a pope’s statements on the pressing issues of the day.
Inflight Press Conference
(Phil Pulella, Reuters)
Good evening, Your Holiness. Today you spoke eloquently about the problems of immigrants. On the other side of the border, however, there is rather tough election campaign in progress. One of the candidates for the White House, the Republican Donald Trump, recently said in an interview that you are a man of politics and indeed a pawn, an instrument of the Mexican government to favor a policy of immigration. He has stated that, if elected, he wants to build a 2,500 kilometer wall along the border; he wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, thus separating families, and so on. So I would like to ask, first of all, what you think of these accusations against you, and whether an American Catholic can vote for such a person.
But thank God he said I am political, because Aristotle defines the human person as an “animal politicus”; at least I’m a human person. And if I’m a pawn, well, maybe, I don’t know. I’ll leave that to your judgment, to the people’s. And then, a person who thinks only of building walls, wherever that might be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. With regard to what you were telling me, what I would advise, to vote or not to vote: I’m not getting involved. I would say: if he says these things, this man is not Christian. One would need to see if he said these things in this way, and for this reason I would give him the benefit of the doubt.
Excerpt from our October 1, 2015, interview with Cardinal Robert Sarah:
Your Eminence, your new book is titled God or Nothing. Why did you choose this title, and what is the heart of the message of your book?
The heart of my book is this: How do we find God in what we are, in what we do and in what we think? … But I also touch upon many issues and problems in the world today: issues and problems in the Church, issues in marriage, in the priesthood. All current issues that affect the life of the Church: mission, the pope.
Pope Francis often speaks about the economy, the environment, immigration, etc. How should the faithful rightly understand a pope’s statements on these matters?
If the pope speaks about the economy or politics, it is not his field of expertise. He can offer his vision or opinion, but it’s not dogma. He can err. But what he says about Christ, about the sacraments, about the faith must be considered as sure.
If he speaks about the environment, the climate, the economy, immigrants, etc., he is working from information that may be correct, or mistaken, but [in these cases] he is speaking as Obama speaks, or another president. It doesn’t mean that what he says on the economy is dogma, something we need to follow. It’s an opinion.
But if what he says is illustrated and illumined by the Gospel, then we ought to regard it seriously. “God wills this; this is what the Bible says,” or “God wills that; this is what the Gospel says.” Thus, politics is illumined, the economy is illumined by the Gospel. That too has some surety because it is not his own thought. It is the thinking of the Bible, the mind of God.
For me, it’s clear that the pope cannot not speak about these issues. But when he does, he is saying what any Head of State can say without it being the Word of God. We need to distinguish.
Diane Montagnais Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.