Pope's comments on Donald Trump 'not a personal attack', says Vatican spokesman

The Vatican's comments came a day after the Pope sparked controversy with his comments about the tycoon

Pope Francis’s suggestion that Donald Trump was not “not Christian” because of his views on immigration was not a personal attack on the Republican frontrunner, a senior Vatican official has said. 

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said on Friday that Francis’ comments, which stunned the US presidential election campaign, were more an affirmation of the Pope’s longstanding belief that migrants should he helped.

“In no way was this a personal attack, nor an indication of how to vote,” Mr Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads from a statement about Pope Francis during a campaign rally in Kiawah, South Carolina

On Thursday, Francis had ignited US election campaign with comments to reporters as he flew back to Italy after a visit to Mexico. In a freewheeling discussion, the Pope suggested Mr Trump was not Christian because of his hardline views on immigration and his desire to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” the Pope said in answer to a specific question about Mr Trump’s views. “This is not in the gospel.”

Asked if American Catholics should vote for someone with Mr Trump’s views, Francis said: “I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”

Mr Trump immediately hit back, saying that the Pope’s comments were “shameful”.

“I am 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 our current president,” he said.

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

Pope Francis Questions Donald Trump's Christianity

Later, still campaigning in South Carolina, the billionaire appeared to step back and offer a gentler perspective. He also suggested that both the government of Mexico and the media were responsible for misleading the pope about the situation in regard to immigrants entering the US.

“I have a lot of respect for the Pope. He has a lot of personality and I think he's doing a very good job, he has a lot of energy,” he said.

He also repeated his belief the Pope had been ignorant of the drugs being smuggled into the US and other security issues.

The Vatican spokesman, Mr Lombardi, said the Pope believed people “should build bridges, not walls”, according to Reuters.

He added: “This is his general view, which is very consistent with courageously following the indications of the gospel on offering welcome and solidarity.”