Donald Trump v Pope Francis.

When Donald Trump and Pope Francis got into a war of words last week, everyone focused on the two larger-than-life personalities, and whether or not the pope had dissed The Donald.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” the pope said.

Trump responded by dismissing the pope as “a very political person,” and added that the pope was being manipulated by Mexican power brokers.

Trump added, “I don’t think (the pope) understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico. I think Mexico got him to do it because they want to keep the border just the way it is. They’re making a fortune, and we’re losing.”

This had people speculating that Trump had finally gone too far. What happened next? Trump won the South Carolina primary.

Meanwhile, amidst all this, it barely went noticed that the pope made some very interesting comments about birth control.

Asked about using birth control pills to halt the spread of the Zika virus, Pope Francis said, “Avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, as in that one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these mosquitoes that carry this disease.”

The pope was referring to Pope Paul VI’s decision in the 1960s to allow nuns to use contraception because they had been threatened with rape.

The real story here seemed to be Pope Francis, yet again, nudging open a door the Catholic Church has sought keep closed for a long, long time.

No, it’s not like Francis is saying it’s okay for Catholics to use contraception, even though they’ve been doing exactly that for decades. Still, given the state of debate surrounding Catholics, birth control and abortion, any opening is a good one.

Indeed, so much focus has been placed on the rise of Trump that social issues like abortion have been -- temporarily -- cast aside. But this may be the sleeping giant of the presidential race. The death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, and the looming holy war over replacing him on the high court, will surely bring these issues back to the political spotlight.

Indeed, one of the cases about to be argued before the eight-member court is Whole Women’s Health vs. Cole. At the center of the case is a Texas law that places restrictions on medical facilities that can perform abortions.

As U.S. News and World Report noted, “Those in favor of the Texas law say it is intended to protect women’s health, as it brings health and safety standards for abortion clinics more in line with those of other medical facilities. Opponents argue the law is intended only as means to limit abortion. The lead plaintiff, an abortion provider called Whole Woman’s Health, has said the law isn’t medically necessary, is demanding and expensive, and interferes with women’s health care. A decision on the case is likely to come in late June.”

Quite obviously this case -- and most like it -- will be decided by the justice who will replace Scalia. Will President Obama manage to get a nominee past the Senate? Or will Trump, or Ted Cruz, or Hillary Clinton do the nominating?

Irish American Catholics may well play a key role in deciding all of this. The Catholic vote has been central to recent presidential elections, and Trump is charging hard for these votes.

As The New York Times noted after the Trump-Francis kerfuffle, “Mr. Trump’s remarks could prove far more damaging to him in heavily Catholic states like New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, all of which have delegate-rich primaries where he is aiming for strong victories. He and his advisers have long seen working-class white voters as a core part of his electoral base.”

But these voters have doubts about Clinton as well. Trump, meanwhile, has been trying to come off as a hard-core opponent of abortion to please evangelical Christians.

Ironically, that may actually play best with another group of voters who know they are suppose to be against abortion but are more concerned with other matters: Catholics.

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