The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the pope’s spokesman who was standing beside the pontiff on the plane Wednesday night when he made his comments, told Vatican Radio that Francis' remarks were simply a restatement of his frequently voiced views that immigrants deserve respect and dignity and should be treated fairly.
"In no way was this a personal attack, nor an indication of how to vote," the Vatican statement said today, adding that the pope believes that people "should build bridges, not walls."
"This is his general view, which is very consistent with courageously following the indications of the Gospel on offering welcome and solidarity," the statement said.
When asked by a reporter Wednesday, "Can a good Catholic vote for this man?" Francis responded by saying, "Thank God he said I was a politician, because Aristotle defined the human person as 'animal politicus.' So at least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn -- well, maybe, I don't know. I'll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people."
He continued: "And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt."
The pope has previously talked about the importance of Europe’s politicians treating refugees and migrants with compassion and dignity, criticizing those who are trying shut Europe’s borders.