Partisan pope? Falwell critiques Pope Francis on Twitter

(Left) Pope Francis gestures during his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on July 17, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tony Gentile (Right) Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks during Liberty University's 43rd Commencement Ceremony on May 14, 2016. Photo by Joel Coleman, courtesy of Liberty University

(RNS) The alliance between Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants on a range of issues dear to social conservatives has been one of the biggest storylines in religion and politics in recent decades.

But in the Age of Pope Francis and the Era of President Trump that union may be fraying.

In a tweet posted Monday night (Nov. 14), Jerry Falwell Jr. — a Baptist and leader of the religious right who was one of Trump’s chief promoters — delivered a pithy and pointed critique of the pontiff.

“Pope Francis lost all credibility when he failed to call out US Left for policies that impoverished inner cities 4 Dem politicalgain,” Falwell tweeted.


In a tweet he has since deleted, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. seemed to criticize Pope Francis. Screengrab via Twitter

The tweet — directed at the pope’s Twitter account, @Pontifex — was almost immediately deleted. Reached by phone Tuesday by RNS, the Liberty University president said his wife, Becki, and 16-year-old daughter, Caroline, had made him take it down, something he said happens “every now and then.”

But he stood by the tweet and said it was prompted by the pope’s comments in an interview published Friday by Italian daily La Repubblica.

Asked what he thought about the president-elect, Francis said: “I do not judge people or politicians. I only want to understand what suffering their behavior causes to the poor and the excluded.”

RELATED: Pope Francis reminds Donald Trump not to forget the poor

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with co-headliner Jerry Falwell Jr., leader of the nation's largest Christian university, during a campaign event at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa, on Jan. 31, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Dave Kaup

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with co-headliner Jerry Falwell Jr., leader of the nation’s largest Christian university, during a campaign event at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa, on Jan. 31, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Dave Kaup

Falwell said his tweet should be read less as “critical” and more “thinking out loud.”

“I couldn’t help but think, ‘Where were you the last eight years when (President Barack) Obama’s policies were further impoverishing the inner cities through these welfare programs that give people just enough to survive but to keep them dependent on the government?'” he said.

“It’s my opinion the Democrats do it for their own political gain. I would like to see the pope speak out against that.”

Francis has upset many conservatives with his focus on the poor and marginalized while giving issues such as abortion and gay rights less prominence.

“I was just curious why he was taking sides. It seems like the policies of the right to bring jobs back and fair trade deals and to provide jobs to folks in poverty would be something he would cheer for or something he would appreciate,” Falwell said.

The pope and Trump also have a history. In February, when asked about the Republican’s pledge to deport illegal immigrants and build a wall at the Mexican border, Francis said that was “not Christian.”

Trump fired back, calling the pope’s remarks “disgraceful.”

RELATED: Catholic bishops follow Trump’s election with a message of their own

Since the presidential election the Catholic bishops appear to be growing increasingly concerned about a Trump presidency. On the opening day of U.S. bishops’ annual fall meeting this week, they called on the president-elect to change course and adopt humane policies toward immigrants and refugees.

But the bishops are also aware that Catholics overall voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton, 52 percent to 45 percent. That’s not as strong as the more than 80 percent of white evangelicals who backed Trump, but it may show that the alliance is still fairly solid at the grass roots.

And Falwell conceded: “I think we just need to recognize that Christians have different political beliefs just like anybody else, and there’s going to be other Christians who don’t agree with us politically or don’t agree with each other, I should say. That’s no reason to not be friends. That’s no reason not to be brothers in Christ.

“Jesus never told us what our political beliefs should be.”

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

About the author

David Gibson


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  • Falwell, like all Americans, has been grossly misinformed about this pope who has on scores of occasions condemned abortion, contraception and equality for gay and especially transgender persons. The pope wants hand-outs to the poor, but in his entire life has never supported progressive reforms that address the causes of poverty. The official written response from the Vatican re: Trump – “points of dialogue” with Trump include peace and “internal subjects such as religious freedom, Catholics’ commitment and attention to the most vulnerable bands of society”. The official written response of US bishops: “looks forward to working with President-elect Trump to protect human life from its most vulnerable beginning, [a] commitment to domestic religious liberty, ensuring people of faith remain free to proclaim the truth about man and woman, and the unique bond of marriage that they can form [and that] migrants and refugees can be humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security.”

  • The pope is a powerful public figure, and is certainly subject to critique. There are those on the Left who decry him for his stance on abortion and contraception, though he has been conciliatory to gays and transgenders without changing the Church’s traditional stance regarding homosexuality. Those on the Right decry him for his challenge to the wealthy and powerful to not forget the poor and disenfranchised. No one’s perfect, not even the pope. Falwell’s critique is misplaced in a sense, because the pope is not an expert, nor does his interest lie in the area of economic theory. He has implored the haves to consider the have nots without a great deal of reference to who accomplishes it or how. Jesus Himself did not typically address who or how, except that He expected His followers to be among the Whos.

  • “Jesus never told us what our political beliefs should be”
    He did tell us to believe that we are salt and light. And He told us what that would look like to others, feel like to others, sound like to others.
    How are the others in your life responding. Responding well we hope. Right?

  • Falwell hasn’t accomplished for the poor and the suffering even 10% of what Pope Francis has done. feed the poor, help the immigrant and refugee, and then you can talk about who has moral authority.

  • Both the pope and Jerry Falwell, Jr. are way off base! They should get the hell out of politics and back to the work they’ve been called to: the spiritual nurturance of the people who have entrusted their spiritual growth to them. That work is out there in the orchards and vinyards, far out of the bright spotlight of the media.

    The only spiritual interest either of these two should have in any election, is to encourage their adherents to pray for unity and a cooperative spirit to work together for the common good of all. And of course, that doesn’t get you in the spotlight either! Seems like there’s a theme here . . .

  • Jesus expected his followers to be among the “who not’s”. He did not court or predict a good outcome (heaven) for WHO’s (the wealthy and the powerful) unless the cared for the least of these.

  • A real Christian must follow the lead of Jesus. He did not praise the free market, wealth, or possessions. An unfettered free market acts in a manner contrary to the teachings of Jesus (care for the least of these, wealth is an impediment on the path to heaven).
    The Pope is on firm ground when discussing policies that affect the welfare of people (e.g., refugees, immigrants, climate change, wealth disparity).

  • Well this is just great. We have a pres-elect and a Christianist leader(?) loud mouth both saying nasty childish things via Twitter. Are we proud yet America? ?

  • I get the intent of your message, but we live in such a complex worldwide economy that it is very difficult to know where Jesus would lead us these days. Maybe I’m too much of an individualist who believes God wants people to develop the personal faith, risk-taking and confidence to provide for themselves, rather than being a believer in the collective that puts the initiative (and blame) on the larger group. The collectivists tend to be Marxists, who’ll never admit that their way has never worked. Out of blind faith in this failed economic system, they keep doing the same things, hoping maybe it finally work this time. Christ didn’t have anything to do with this kind of insanity, except to heal it when he encountered it at work with people.

    Free markets are amoral, unless they’re run by enough people with a moral sense. To the extent that we have Christian business men and women operating in the marketplace setting fair and equitable standards, we will maintain a fair marketplace for all. I believe we have long maintained that critical mass in the US, since enough Christian business men and women see it as their moral duty to actively express their faith in all their dealings in the marketplace. I’ll admit i’m an optimist . . .”it’s a horrible system except for all the others.”

  • Bergoglio is a leftist modernist. During his pontificate he has done nothing to protect Catholic doctrine and practice, in particular in the domain of sexual morality. I guess there is hardly an evangelical in the world who can appreciate a Papal Exhortation like Amoris Laetitia. After Vatican II evangelicals gradually began to appreciate the Papacy, because it became friendly to them as fellow Christians while still upholding traditional moral doctrine against the evils of the modern world. In the Pope, so many evangelicals thought, they had a world wide institutional voice that helped them in defending their religious liberty and the basic principles of Christianity. But this appreciation of the Catholic Magisterium began to diminish under Pope Francis and is now reaching the point of turning into fear. Evangelicals now view the Papacy as essentially siding with the secular world, against Christianity. In Francis new now face the monstrosity of a Pope who seems to be willing to sacrifice Church doctrine in order to propagate a false and cheap mercy by destroying sacramental discipline. They see more and more high prelates defending homosexual unions and even gay marriage, while being silent about abortion and euthanasia, and expressing no or only weak concerns about the dangers of Gender Ideology. From all this many evangelicals conclude that the Pope and the Catholic Church can no longer be trusted as their natural political and social allies.

  • The Pope should preach that immigrants follow the host country’s laws. Illegal immigration is trespassing, and a sin against the Seventh and Tenth Commandments.

    It is unfair that illegal aliens simply jump over the border and expect to be processed ahead of would-be immigrants who wait in line for years, following the law. Immigrants should also be willing to assimilate into the culture, work hard to earn a living so as not to be a burden to society, learn to speak the host country’s language, and not demand that their flag and culture be accommodated unconditionally.

    Falwell has every right to his political opinion because he is an American citizen. The Pope is not an American citizen and should stop meddling in American politics.

    I’m an ardent Catholic myself, but I don’t agree with the Pope’s political views. Sorry.

  • You must prove that what you’re saying is true. Provide source, data, statistics, whatever. How many people has the Pope personally (not using the resources of the Catholic Church) helped? Has he helped a single illegal immigrant obtain proper papers?

  • The Pope has the Church’s treasury of doctrine called the “Magisterium” to use.
    They are centuries-old teachings of the Church based on the Bible, sacred Tradition and how the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ apply in people’s lives. The Pope may not divert from the Truth. The Pope cannot invent his own doctrines as regards Faith and Morals.

    But his political opinions are his own and faithful Catholics don’t have to agree with his politics.

  • Please cite where Pope Francis is sacrificing Church doctrine. Because he does does not hue to American conservative values does not mean he is sacrificing Catholic doctrine as the two are not the same. Mercy, compassion, accompaniment, preferential option for the poor are all Catholic values, and they have been for centuries. Should you care to read John Paul II, Benedict XVI and just about any other pope you will find them there. Pope Benedict recently signaled his support for Francis and how he is leading the Church. Finally, sexual morality, while it has its place in Church teaching is not central to Church teaching. The Creed is. The Gospel is. Christ is. Sex is not.

    I for one rejoice that “evangelicals conclude that the Pope and the Catholic Church can no longer be trusted as their natural political and social allies.” Catholics are not fundamentalists, never have been. Catholics do not primarily embrace American conservative values; they tend to be centrists. It’s about time evangelicals figure that out.

  • You are simply ignorant of Catholic doctrine. According to Catholic moral theology a single willful departure from chastity in thought alone is a mortal sin that, if not sincerely repented, will cause you to end in hell.

  • He found something to criticize in THAT interview?/!! Whew! That’s some straining. Thanks Pope Francis for leading the way.

  • Prove what you’re saying is true and why skepticism must be the position. Source, data and statistics. How many logico -ethical tribunals have you served on. Weird post.

  • Just as a psychological exercise, I find it interesting that you cite the Magisterium and sacred Tradition based on the bible before “how the teachings of Jesus Christ apply in people’s lives.” For my part, even in a literary construct, Jesus Christ always comes first. Not a criticism, just and observation. Though I would ask, how can a Catholic parse the words of the pope as to separate the political from the doctrinal? And why or how can the pope speak politically apart from doctrine?

  • I have advanced degrees in Catholic doctrine. I am not ignorant. Your example is where Francis’ emphasis on mercy and accompaniment come into play. Also, “departure(s) from chastity” are not the only category where this is so. Sexual morality is not at the center of Church teaching. Period.

  • @ Tom, – if anyone needs to apologise, then it’s leftists & globalists like YOU !!
    This is a prudential judgement issue, & the Pope’s comments are merely his opinion, & his opinion only.

    Mara’s comments are excellent, True & Valid.

    There is No definitive teaching in such a complex issue, only guidelines.
    Authentic Charity does not conflict with Truth.

    Build a bridge, & get over yourself !!

  • Haha yourself !!
    Francis has a Pseudo Charity, & wishes to pit it against Truth.
    Francis seems to be in contempt of the Truth that whilst God is an infinite being of Divine Love & Mercy, He is also a being of Divine Truth & Justice !!

    Leftists like you are always blinded to that.
    That’s because you have your own subversive agenda !!

  • Wrong !!

    The Burden of Proof lies with those making the claim about someone’s actions & behaviour to prove any achievements & accomplishments.
    It is not upon those who have valid questions or criticisms of such a claim, to prove otherwise.

  • Unlike many who comment here, I am an orthodox Catholic who is very thankful for having worked for Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr. and I am pleased to know Dr. Falwell, Jr. Perhaps a Twitter post is not the best place to comment on weighty matters, but Dr. Falwell, Jr. is quite simply right to express his opinion regarding Pope Francis’ political comments and machinations. When a religious leader wades into the political fray as often as Pope Francis has, he should expect to be challenged–and rightly so.

  • I actually debated Falwell Sr, on Sean Hannity’s TV show. He was as despicable as anyone could be. Falwell later chickened out on debating me again on KABC radio in LA.

    Years ago I was the Sunday morning speaker as a church in Lynchburg, VA, Falwell’s town. After the service I found that my sermon was covered by the religion editor of the local newspaper. Surprised, I asked why he was covering my talk instead of some big event at Falwell’s “university.” His reply: “I am the religion editor; Falwell is covered by the business editor.”

  • And Falwells Jr and Sr were not up ti their eyebrows in ultraconservative politics? “Moral Majority” and all that? I am acquainted with ministers, three in Lynchburg and one in NY, who wrote crirtically about Falwell Sr. Interestingly, they were all audited by the IRS.

  • If you have advanced degrees in Catholic theoloy, why are you making such glaring mistakes? Whatever is necessary and important for the salvation of souls is at the center of the Church’s teaching, and the divine commandments about sexuality are certainly among these necessary and important things. And your “period” doesn’t matter at all.

  • Wake me up when we get a new Pope! John Paul 2 – now thats a Pope! I can’t tell the difference between Bernie Sanders and Francis.

  • My, my. Just a little insecure, eh? Or was that your example of saying something childish? Either way, you succeeded.

  • the catholic church choses its leader by a consensus of its leaders throughout the world; falwell represents his tv empire and a college of ideological gobbledy-gook

    who ya’ gonna believe

  • He puts his carbon footprint on the earth when he uses his jet and Popemobile however. Illegal means illegal not undocumented. The USA is a sovereign country. Butt out.

  • Well good for you Boy-o !

    But none of that actually does jack to invalidate the point that Falwell Jr was making, which was valid & reasonable criticism of Francis, & quite justified under the circumstances.

    btw…. Up-ticking your own Posts ?? – Face-palm !!

  • People who kills a loved one, tbinking that one the devil, also acts independently. We don’t need lone wolf crackpots. Religion curbs the ego, even if it pretends to be Jesus. Its adherents see in it something bigger than themselves and what Christ established as “the church”, though there’s only one true one that passed on the true teachings in its dogmas, even in times of clerical let-downs, via a succession of each office as we saw when Mattias replaced Judas in Scripture.