President Trump’s raucous rally in Montana last week drew a big crowd and national media coverage. Additionally, as we wrote here, it provided insights into the president’s campaign strategy for the next 17 weeks leading up to the midterm elections.
Now, it turns out, the rally in Great Falls also created what one Montana newspaper is calling “a firestorm” of controversy on social media over four specific members of the audience.
They were priests, wearing clerical dress, carrying Trump signs and seated near the front. The men — Father Garrett Nelson, Father Ryan Erlenbush, Father Kevin Christofferson and Father Christopher Lebsock — were also wearing VIP badges.
Such things at presidential events overseen by the Secret Service do not happen by accident.
Video of the full rally is available here courtesy of C-SPAN Video Archives.
Virtually anything about Donald Trump gets his critics excited. Rep. Maxine Waters, among others, has urged Trump opponents to publicly confront members of his Cabinet and supporters over administration policies. In one sense, the ostentatious presence of four Roman Catholic priests in religious garb was a silent sign of opposition to the opposition.
But it got many twitterers excited about separation of church and state and priests getting involved in political activities, as if daily affairs in a Catholic parish do not involve politics.
Anyone familiar with Catholic teaching on such issues as abortion who’s talked with modern-day priests should not be surprised that they support a president who says he’s opposed to abortion and who supported the Little Sisters of the Poor, among others, in their court fight against Obamacare.
And anyone familiar with that church and politics in Montana shouldn’t be surprised either. Despite his wealthy upbringing and education in the alien East, Trump took the Big Sky state’s three electoral votes in 2016 by a substantial 20 point margin over the woman favored by NARAL and Planned Parenthood.
Seven years ago the Montana Catholic Conference released suggested guidelines for clergy and parishioners:
Religious leaders should avoid taking positions on candidates or participating in political party matters even while acting in their individual capacity. Although not prohibited, it may be difficult to separate their personal activity from their public role as a Church leader.
In Great Falls, Bishop Michael William Warfel said he declined an invitation to the rally. He said he was unaware the priests would attend and would be “contacting” them. In answer to a newspaper query, the Bishop added, in part:
While they are free to support a political candidate — and I believe they were there in support of Matt Rosendale, who is running for the Senate seat from Montana — they should not have been attired in clerical garb and seated in such a prominent location….
It has been my experience that people can be manipulated and used unwittingly. I judge that it was an imprudent decision on their parts to allow themselves to be used in such a way, though I suspect they had not thought of this.