FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
February 19, 2016
Alessandro Di Meo (AFP)-Steve Pope/Getty

Pope Francis and Donald Trump have some things in common: Both control prime pieces of real estate and priceless works of art, both claim to care for the working class, both men wear white.... But, as became clear Thursday, the pope and the GOP presidential frontrunner differ in their interpretation of the gospels. That isn't too unusual for a Catholic and Protestant, but this high-profile spat, in the middle of a heated presidential primary, is pretty remarkable.

Responding to Trump's words about building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and deporting 12 million immigrants, the pope said "this man is not Christian if he has said things like that.... This is not the gospel." Trump said it was "disgraceful" for the pope to "question another man's religion or faith" and affirmed his Christianity. "If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS," Trump added, the pope will "have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president."

Trump's GOP rivals mostly steered clear of the dispute, but religious scholars suggested that the pope had raised a fair question about Trump's policies, if not his personal faith. "'Is the Pope Catholic?’ is a joke used to emphasize when something is blindingly obvious," Luke Bretherton, a professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School, said in a statement. "That the question 'Is Donald Trump a Christian?' is not a joke but a serious question should tell us something." He added:

That Pope Francis raises a question about whether certain political views are compatible with Christian belief and practice or not is wholly appropriate and something Christian leaders in North America, whether Democrat or Republican, seem all too happy to pronounce on on a regular basis. When politicians parade their faith as a vote-winning strategy, they necessarily invite comment on the status and coherence of their faith commitments with their political positions.

Bretherton's colleague Paul Griffiths, a professor of Catholic theology, was a bit more nuanced: "Donald Trump's proposal isn't consistent with deep Christian understandings of the movements of peoples across border; that, in turn, is perfectly consistent with Trump himself being a Christian — which is to say someone baptized in the triune name."

Slamming the pope isn't expected to hurt Trump in Saturday's primary in South Carolina, where 65 percent of the 2012 GOP primary voters were evangelical Christians and only 13 percent were Catholic. It could hurt him in the delegate-rich, heavily Catholic states in the Northeast. Peter Weber

12:52 p.m. ET
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will not attend the annual Kennedy Center Honors, the White House announced Saturday, to "allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction." Also canceled is the White House reception for honorees traditionally held after the ceremony every year since 1978.

Kennedy Center chair David M. Rubenstein and president Deborah F. Rutter received the announcement happily, issuing a statement thanking the administration for "graciously signal[ing] its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the Honorees," they said, adding, "We are grateful for this gesture."

Before the Trumps' announcement, three of the five artists to be honored — producer Norman Lear, singer Lionel Richie, and dancer Carmen de Lavallade — said they would refuse to attend the ceremony, reception, or both in protest of the president. "In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our current leadership is choosing to engage in," de Lavallade said, "and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House." Bonnie Kristian

12:09 p.m. ET

Thousands of counter-protesters marched in Boston Saturday to demonstrate against an event billed as a celebration of free speech but slammed by critics for ties to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday.

The original demonstration was organized by a group called Boston Free Speech, and its schedule for the day included two speakers with ties to the alt-right, one of whom marched in Charlottesville. Boston Free Speech has since distanced itself from white nationalism, pruning its speaker list and "denounc[ing] the politics of supremacy and violence."

Those changes did not deter counter-protesters — bearing signs condemning Nazism, the KKK, and all varieties of white supremacy — from turning out in vastly larger numbers. Police have determined to prevent violence among demonstrators; so far, there is one report of a man in a Trump hat being punched in the face.

See scenes from Boston Common below. Bonnie Kristian

This is a developing story and will be updated as more details become available.

10:56 a.m. ET

President Trump spent Friday at Camp David meeting with defense and diplomatic advisers to discuss a range of topics centrally including the 16-year war in Afghanistan. Saturday morning, after heading back to his vacation at his golf resort in New Jersey, Trump posted a tweet hinting a decision about the conflict's future had been reached:

What that decision may be remains to be seen. During his campaign, Trump was skeptical that continuing the war would lead to victory or serve American national interests, though he was inconsistent on the question of whether the 2001 invasion was a mistake. He has mulled options, reportedly including everything from withdrawal to sending thousands of additional U.S. troops, for months.

A Friday statement from the White House seemed to indicate that deliberation process was still underway. "The President is studying and considering his options," said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, "and will make an announcement to the American people, to our allies and partners, and to the world at the appropriate time."

The ouster of former chief strategist Stephen Bannon may play into whatever decisions were made Friday; Bannon favored a more restrained approach in Afghanistan while Trump's remaining advisers, most notably National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, are believed to prefer a more activist approach including a troop surge. Bonnie Kristian

10:35 a.m. ET
Irina Shvets/Getty Images

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a stabbing attack Saturday morning that wounded eight people in the Siberian city of Surgut, Russia. The attacker reportedly ran down a main street in Surgut, stabbing at random until he was fatally shot by police. The ISIS statement was published several hours later.

Russian authorities have yet to comment on the attacker's identity or motives, though they called for calm and announced four of the injured are in critical condition.

This attack comes close on the heels of multiple other fatal terror attacks elsewhere in Europe this week. ISIS also claimed responsibility for the vehicle rampages in Barcelona and Cambrils, Spain, on Thursday and Friday but has yet to claim Friday's stabbing in Finland. ISIS often claims responsibility for terror attacks with which it has no organizational connection, only ideological affinity. Bonnie Kristian

10:04 a.m. ET
Vesa Moilanen/Getty Images

Police in Finland arrested a man accused of stabbing eight people, killing two and injuring six more, on Friday in the southwest city of Turku. Police reported they shot the 18-year-old Moroccan man in the leg after his alleged attack.

"The act had been investigated as murder, but during the night we received additional information which indicates that the criminal offences are now terrorist killings," authorities said Saturday.

Eyewitness reports of the incident offer conflicting accounts; some say the suspect was heard yelling "Allahu akbar," but others say the screams were people saying "watch out" in Finnish. Bonnie Kristian

10:00 a.m. ET

A California man named Jared Tucker, 42, has been named as one of the victims of the terrorist attack in Barcelona on Thursday.

Tucker was on a delayed honeymoon to Spain with his wife, Heidi Nunes, celebrating their one-year anniversary. He stepped away from her to go to the bathroom when the vehicle attack began. "Next thing I know there's screaming, yelling," said Nunes. "I got pushed inside the souvenir kiosk and stayed there hiding while everybody kept running by screaming." The next morning, Tucker was identified among the 13 people killed.

"It's been bitter, but I don't know what my feelings are," said Tucker's father, Dan Tucker. "I'm not angry so much as I just don't understand it. My wife's in shock." A widely circulated photo of Tucker and Nunes, shown in the tweet above, was taken a mere hour before the attack.

Investigations are ongoing Saturday as authorities have linked the Barcelona attack to incidents in Cambrils and Alcanar on Friday and Wednesday, respectively, which bring the total killed by the three acts of terrorism to 15. Bonnie Kristian

8:26 a.m. ET

Two police officers, Matthew Baxter and Sam Howard, were shot in Kissimmee, Florida, Friday night while responding to a report of suspicious activity. Baxter was killed and Howard remains in "grave critical condition." The suspected shooter is in custody and three other people have been detained; details about their identities or the motives behind the attack have not been released. Kissimmee police are still searching for one more person.

President Trump promptly tweeted after news of the attack broke:

Four other police officers were also wounded on duty Friday night, two in another part of Florida and two in Pennsylvania. One is in critical condition, while the other injuries are less serious. Bonnie Kristian

See More Speed Reads