The New York Times reports…
“Supporters of Donald J. Trump were quick to suggest on Thursday that Pope Francis was being hypocritical to criticize as un-Christian Mr. Trump’s proposal to build a wall between the United States and Mexico because the pontiff himself lives in Vatican City, a small state with sturdy walls of its own.
“Amazing comments from the pope — considering Vatican City is 100% surrounded by massive walls,” Dan Scavino, Mr. Trump’s social media director and senior adviser, said on Twitter after the pope suggested Mr. Trump, a Republican presidential candidate, was “not Christian.”
Mr. Scavino tweeted a picture of Vatican City with an outline around its border that suggested walls stood on some territory where no walls, in fact, stand.
Similar criticisms could be found on news media outlets like Fox News and T.M.Z. Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman turned MSNBC host, posted on Twitter a picture of a looming stone wall Thursday with the remark, “Pope Francis, tear down that wall!”
But scholars who study Medieval Italy and the history of the Roman Catholic Church dismissed those criticisms as the product of a basic misunderstanding of both the geography and the history of Vatican City, a roughly 100-acre enclave in Rome that is the seat of the Holy See.
“The rhetoric from Trump’s team is misinformation, and it is not true,” said Gerard Mannion, a professor of Catholic Studies at Georgetown University in Washington.
“It isn’t all surrounded by walls, and it’s not like you need a separate visa or a passport to enter,” he said. “You wouldn’t know, almost, when you even entered Vatican City. There is a white line painted on the ground in St. Peter’s Square, but that kind of thing is not obvious everywhere.”
There are, to be sure, formidable walls in Vatican City, and much of of the site, including the gardens and the modest guesthouse that is home to Francis, is set behind them. But the walls do not entirely enclose the city-state, and in the modern era they are not meant to, historians said.
“Anybody can walk into St. Peter’s Square — that’s the whole point of it,” said Dr. Mannion. “It was designed to be welcoming and to draw people in like two open arms, to draw them into the heart of the church.”
Some of the walls in Vatican City were built in the ninth century by Pope Leo IV in an attempt to protect it from attacks by pirates and other marauders, historians said. But other stretches of wall were built during the 15th and 16th centuries, Dr. Mannion said, less as a defensive measure and more as “a political and cultural statement” about the cultural and political power of the pope.
Today, the public can freely enter some parts of Vatican City, including St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican Museum (which charges for the price of a ticket). Those areas receive millions of visitors each year who are able to enter and exit the tiny city-state as they wish.
Areas of the Vatican that are involved in the day-to-day governance of the church or that house officials, like the pope himself, are more difficult to gain access to, said Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, also a Catholic studies professor at Georgetown.
“That’s the same as any government structure in the world,” she said. “You can’t just walk into the White House.”
Gaining access to some parts of the Vatican, such as the library or the archives, is more complicated than just strolling into St. Peter’s Square. But the process does not appear to be too cumbersome.
Ken Pennington, a professor of medieval history at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, said his research on canon law had brought him into the Vatican many times over the past four decades.
Visitors must show some form of identification to a guard and explain the purpose of their visit, he said, but if they have a library card from the Vatican Library, they can use that to gain entry, too.
“When I am there I show the guards my library card and they let me right in,” he said. “It’s the only place in the world where a library card gets you into a country.”
Walls like those found in some parts of the Vatican were a fixture in almost every significant city of the medieval period, including London, Paris and Jerusalem, said Professr Apostolos-Cappadona.
“The walls are a fortification, there is no question, but they were a fortification built at a time when armed invasions by barbarians and other forces were happening,” she said. “And that is not the same thing we are talking about with a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.”