Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress is denying accusations that he is "anti-Catholic" and assured that there will be millions of Catholics in Heaven after a question was posed during a White House press briefing Tuesday about President Donald Trump's recent tweet calling Jeffress a "wonderful man."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked by a reporter about Trump's tweet from last Friday in which he promoted the 61-year-old Jeffress' new book, A Place Called Heaven: 10 Surprising Truths about Your Eternal Home."
The president wrote in his tweet that the book was a "great book" and asserted that the pastor at First Baptist Dallas, who is one of his most loyal evangelical supporters, is "a wonderful man."
"Given that there are 70 million American Catholics, why would [the president] say that about somebody who's so viciously anti-Catholic?" Sanders was asked during the briefing.
Sanders responded by stating that she was "not aware" of Jeffress being anti-Catholic.
"I know that he engages with the Catholics in his home state on a regular basis to participate in events like the March for Life," Sanders said. "Those are the only actions I've seen him participate in, so I couldn't comment any further on that."
The question to Sanders comes as several left-leaning news outlets reported on Trump's tweet last Friday and claimed that Trump was supporting a man who called Catholicism the "genius of Satan" and a "cult-like pagan religion."
On Tuesday night, Jeffress responded.
"It's no accident that the liberal media started this line of attack after I appeared on 'Lou Dobbs Tonight' in support of President Trump and General Kelly against the unwarranted attacks being made on them by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson," Jeffress said in a statement shared with the The Christian Post.
"I am delighted though, to reiterate what I've said many times when people ask me if Catholics are going to be in Heaven or are Baptists going to be in Heaven: nobody goes to heaven in a group — it's one by one, based on our relationship with Christ," Jeffress clarified. "And I can tell you this: there will be millions of Catholics in heaven who have trusted in Christ for their salvation."
Jeffress stated that he loves his brothers and sisters in Christ who are Catholic.
"I work with them often on issues of religious liberty and the pro-life movement. I walk alongside Catholic priests in pro-life demonstrations," he added. "As recently as this past Sunday, I welcomed [Fox News host] Sean Hannity to First Baptist to discuss his journey of faith."
It should be noted that during the interview with Hannity this past Sunday at First Baptist Dallas, Hannity explicitly explained that although he was brought up Catholic, he now considers himself born-again because his Catholic upbringing only gave him "guilt." Hannity explained during the discussion that he grew to believe that the Catholic Church "got it wrong" when it comes to their foundational belief on how the church was formed.
"They did," Jeffress responded.
In his statement Tuesday night, Jeffress admitted that he believes there are "theological aberrations in the Catholic church that needed to be corrected."
"But they have aberrations in the Baptist church that need to be corrected as well," Jeffress stressed.
Hannity also issued a statement assuring that Jeffress is not "anti-Catholic."
"I was raised a Catholic, I was even an altar boy, and attended seminary, and I can tell you that Dr. Jeffress has expressed to me both privately, and publicly, that he agrees Catholics are Christians," Hannity said.
This is not the first time that Jeffress has been criticized for his comments on Catholicism and accused of being an anti-Catholic.
The soundbite of Jeffress' 2010 comments on Catholicism linked in the recent reports about Trump's tweet in support of the pastor was also highlighted by the Catholic Leagues' Bill Donohue in February 2016 when he called on Jeffress to apologize.
"It is [Jeffress] who needs to ask for forgiveness for calling the Catholic Church the voice of Satan," Donohue said in a statement at the time.
In 2011, Donahue cited Jeffress' Catholic comments when he called on former Republican Presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry to distance himself from Jeffress after Jeffress introduced Perry when he spoke at that year's Family Research Council's Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. Donohue called Jeffress "a poster boy for hatred."