Pope Francis tells America to pray before voting for 'flawed' candidates in the election and urges Catholics to 'choose with your conscience'
- Pope Francis has not endorsed any of the candidates running for president
- He held a controversial meeting with Bernie Sanders in Rome in April
- The pontiff has been involved in several spats with GOP's Donald Trump
- However, he is also deeply opposed to Hillary Clinton's abortion stance
Pope Francis has urged almost 70million Catholics in the United States to study and pray and 'choose with your conscience' when considering who to vote for in November.
The pontiff was questioned by journalists following a visit to Azerbaijan. In a diplomatic answer, Pope Francis failed to endorse any particular candidate, although he has serious problems with both the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
During a visit to Mexico earlier this year, the Pope described Trump's plans to build a wall along the border as 'un-Christian'.
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Pope Francis, pictured yesterday, has urged Catholics to choose with their conscience when voting in November's Presidential election without endorsing any particular candidate
Speaking on board his papal jet, the Pontiff said there were 'difficulties' with both candidates, but refused to name either or choose his preference
However, Pope Francis also has serious problems with Clinton's support for abortion.
Pope Francis said: 'You have asked me a question that describes a difficult choice because, according to you, there are difficulties with one and difficulties with the other.'
Pope Francis did not identify either of the main candidates by name.
When pressed about Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and Clinton's support for abortion, he replied: 'During political campaigns, I never say a word. The people are sovereign. I would only say, study the proposals well, pray and choose with your conscience.'
Instead of addressing the issue directly, Pope Francis described a 'fictional situation' of a country which is deeply divided.
Pope Francis has serious problems with Hillary Clinton's long-standing support for abortion
Pope Francis had earlier described Donald Trump's Mexican wall plan as 'un-Christian'
Earlier this summer Pope Francis, pictured yesterday, appointed former Fox News correspondent Greg Burke, right, to lead his international media office
He said: 'When in any country there are two, three or four candidates who don't satisfy everyone, it means that perhaps the political life of that country has become too politicized and that it does not have much political culture.
'People say "I'm from this party" or "I'm from that party", but effectively, they don't have clear thoughts about the basics, about proposals.'
Despite his refusal to engage in party politics, Pope Francis has been a vocal critic of the continuing use of the death penalty in the United States.
In July, he met with the mother of an Argentine man who has spent the past two decades on death row.
Victor Hugo Saldano entered the US illegally in the early 1990s and was convicted in 1995 of shooting a man.
Pope Francis caused some controversy over his comments regarding US politics and has been seen as being critical of Republican nominee Donald Trump over his anti-immigrant stance
Yet, Pope Francis will not endorse Hillary Clinton due to her support for abortion
His mother Lidia Guerrero admitted her son was guilty of the crime but had been driven insane by spending so long on death row.
Pope Francis has said the death penalty is 'morally unjustified'.
In April, Pope Francis met with US Vice President Joe Biden to discuss healthcare research.
Pope Francis used his speech to attack a profit-driven model. He said: 'Research, whether in academia and industry, requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person.'
President Obama has sought the assistance of the papal good offices on the issue of climate change as well as efforts to re-establish relations with Cuba.
The Vatican used Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of Havana to negotiate with Fidel Castro's regime about the release of political prisoners.
The Pontiff, pictured in Azerbaijan on Sunday, has previously been critical over the continued use of the death penalty
Later, he helped with secret talks between the United States and Cuba which led to a detente between the two nations in December 2014.
In April, Pope Francis met with Bernie Sanders at his residence in Rome, when Sanders was addressing a conference at the Vatican on social justice.
The pontiff said: 'When I came down, I greeted him, I shook his hand and nothing more. This is called good manners and it is not getting involved in politics. If anyone thinks that greeting someone is getting involved in politics, I recommend that he look for a psychiatrist.'
Mathew Schmalz, professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts said: 'I think we're looking at the impact of the Francis era, where there are different points of contact and different aspects of the Catholic tradition are emphasized. Many prominent Catholic intellectuals have been swayed toward the Republicans in the last few decades. This is a jolt.'
Recent presidential elections have seen intensifying confrontations between church leaders and candidates.
In 2004, Cardinal Raymond Burke, then the St Louis archbishop, caused an uproar when said he would deny Communion to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, a Catholic who supports abortion rights.
Some bishops followed suit by telling Catholic politicians who support abortion rights not to present themselves for the sacrament.
In 2007, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a new version of their presidential-year guidance for Catholic voters that highlighted a range of issues, but said opposition to abortion should be Catholics' greatest concern.
The bishops re-issued the guide for 2016 with only limited revisions, but several bishops individually have also been highlighting issues such as climate change, immigration and poverty.
Former US ambassador to the Vatican Francis Rooney said: 'The pope's a soft-power player.
'His impact around the world comes from moral suasion and influence. I think the pope has got such a strong moral voice that when he weighs in on immigration, I think it makes more people think about it.'
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