Trump Says Religious Leader Questioning Person's Faith Is 'Disgraceful'

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Donald Trump appeared to be backing off his attacks on Pope Francis during a GOP Town Hall Thursday night.

The Republican presidential hopeful responded harshly initially when the pope said the billionaire “is not a Christian.” This happened when the pope responded to a question about Trump’s pledge to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border before he flew back to the Vatican from his visit to Mexico,

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis said. “This is not in the Gospel.”

Not having heard Trump’s border plans independently, Francis 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.”

Despite the comment, the pope said he will not wade into the presidential election.

“As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not vote, I am not going to get involved in that,” he said. “I say only that this man is not a Christian if he has said things like that.”

Trump has promised to build a wall along the Mexican border from Texas to California and expel 11 million people who are in the country illegally if elected president. The Pope’s comments en route home from Mexico came hours after he prayed at the Mexico-U.S. border for migrants who died trying to reach the United States.

Trump was quick to react, 1010 WINS’ Steve Kastenbaum reported.

“He’s questioning my faith — I was very surprised to see it,” Trump said. “I am a Christian, and I’m proud of it.”

In response to the pope’s comments, Trump released a statement saying it is “disgraceful” for a religious leader to question a person’s faith.

“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would’ve been president because this would not have happened,” he said.

At an event Thursday, Trump said the pope’s comments were unbelievable.

“It’s not a nice thing to say,” Trump said. “I’m a very good Christian.”

Trump alleged the Mexican government is using the pope as a pawn.

“They should be ashamed of themselves for doing so especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is rampant and so dangerous and so bad for the United States,” Trump said.

Trump added, “The pope only heard one side of the story and he didn’t see the crime, the drug trafficking and the negative economic impact of the current policy. I mean, you see what’s going on, right?”

However, during a GOP Town Hall on CNN on Thursday night, Trump appeared to back down on his war of words with the pope, CBS2’s Jessica Schneider reported.

“I don’t like fighting with the pope. I don’t think it’s a fight. I think he said something much softer than was initially reported by the media,” Trump said.

Trump’s social media director also took the pope to task, saying on Twitter that the Vatican is surrounded by walls.

“Amazing comments from the Pope- considering Vatican City is 100% surrounded by massive walls,” Dan Scavino tweeted.

A new CBS News national poll shows Trump with a two-to-one advantage over Ted Cruz.

The only candidate left out of the top five in the polls is Jeb Bush, who stopped by a farmer’s market in Florence, South Carolina Thursday morning.

“If you want a president that can lead us through adversity, then I ask for your support on Saturday,” Bush told supporters.

The former Florida governor said he also would not question anyone’s religion.

“I just don’t think it’s appropriate to question Donald Trump’s faith. He know what his faith is. If he has a relationship with the Lord, fantastic. If he doesn’t, it’s none of my business,” Bush said during the GOP Town Hall.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich told the GOP Town Hall audience that he is “pro-pope.”

“First off, I’m pro-pope. Put me down in the pro-pope column,” Kasich said.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley appeared at a town hall event with Marco Rubio after endorsing him for president Wednesday.

“I am as conservative as anyone running in this race, but I am a conservative that can win,” Rubio said.

South Carolina’s polls are set to open in less than 48 hours.

For the Democrats, a new CNN poll shows Hillary Clinton with just a one point lead over Bernie Sanders ahead of the Nevada caucuses.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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