By Ben Kamisar - 02/18/16 12:22 PM EST
Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJimmy Carter: Trump 'tapped a waiting reservoir there of inherent racism' Roger Stone looking into creating pro-Trump nonprofit: report Wesley Clark: 'No one knows' what Trump stands for MORE bashed Pope Francis on Thursday for criticizing his plan to build a border wall, portraying the pontiff as duped by the Mexican government.
Trump, who is Presbyterian, argued that Vatican City could come under attack from Islamic terrorists and that the pope would then be glad if Trump were president.
“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 have been president because this would not have happened,” Trump read from a statement at a Thursday rally in South Carolina.
“ISIS would have been eradicated, unlike what is happening now with our all talk, no action politicians.”
Trump's response came minutes after reports that Pope Francis criticized Trump in a conversation with reporters on his plane.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” the pope said, according to CBS.
Francis demurred when asked whether people should vote for Trump, according to CBS. But he did add, "This man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way, and I will give him the benefit of the doubt."
The pope recently concluded a trip to Mexico by laying a wreath on the U.S. border meant to honor refugees who have died in the passage to the United States.
While Francis avoided direct criticism of the U.S. during the trip, the wreath-laying gesture sent a clear signal of his views.
Trump argued that the pope was misled by the Mexican government and was only fed “one side of the story” that didn't explain the positives that would come from his border wall.
“The Mexican government and its leadership has made many disparaging remarks about me to the pope because they want to continue to rip off the United States both on trade and at the border and they understand that I am totally wise to them,” Trump continue.
Trump spoke kindly of the pope earlier Thursday, before the reports about Francis’s statements were released.
"I respect the pope, and I love the pope in many ways," Trump said on SiriusXM's Breitbart News Daily.
"I love what he stands for, and I like his attitude. He’s very independent, and he’s very different. He’s sort of a modern day pope if you think about it."
Trump's criticism of the pope comes ahead of Saturday's GOP primary in South Carolina, a state he is strongly favored to win.
The businessman has made a play for evangelical voters in the state, seeking to prevent a late surge by Ted CruzTed CruzEven in defeat, Trump could harm the country irreparably Sanders steps up his attacks in homestretch 5 takeaways from the rush for campaign cash MORE, who has been running second in polls.
In 2014, South Carolina was tied for the second-lowest percentage of Catholic residents in the U.S., with just 9 percent of state residents identifying themselves with the faith in a Gallup poll.
This story was updated at 1:05 p.m.