On Wednesday, President Trump met his unlikeliest former adversary: Pope Francis. Despite press expectations of a slightly quieter Ali-Frazier-style head-to-head, the encounter seemed pleasant enough. But the pontiff slipped in an epic burn.
The president's first foreign trip took him to the Vatican, where the pope received the president and first lady Melania Trump at the Apostolic Palace. At the end of their 30-minute meeting, the pontiff dispensed gifts: a medallion of an olive tree, to signify peace, and copies of his writings, including a 192-page encyclical on the environment, which criticized the world's biggest nations for not addressing climate change. “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming,” he wrote.
Trump, who has called climate change a Chinese plot, is expected to announce whether the United States will pull out of the Paris Agreement to reduce global warming after the G7 Summit next week. He recently signed an executive order to unravel President Obama's plan to curb U.S. carbon emissions, and he approved the oil pipelines Dakota Access and Keystone XL.
Federico Rampini, a columnist for Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, said the environmental tract was a “politically loaded gift." “The church most decidedly sided with respecting the Paris Agreement on climate change,” wrote Rampini.
During the presidential campaign, Pope Francis and Trump tangled in an unheard-of way, with the pontiff loudly questioning Trump's commitment to Christian ideals.
In February 2016, the pope criticized then-candidate Trump after he pledged to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. "I'd just say that this man is not Christian if he said it in this way," the pope said after visiting Mexico. "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian."
"For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful," Trump replied.
But after Tuesday's meeting, Trump tweeted, "Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world."
Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world. pic.twitter.com/JzJDy7pllI— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2017
No matter what detente Trump has struck with the pontiff, he has work to do with senior Vatican officials, who have excoriated his views on climate change. Last week, the Rev. Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo said Trump’s beliefs were “against science, even before being against what the pope says.”
“In the election campaign, he even said it was a Chinese invention," Sorondo continued. "But this president has already changed on several things, so perhaps on this, as well.”