Four Montana priests are being blasted for attending a Trump rally.
Fathers Kevin Christofferson and Christopher Lebsock from the Helena diocese and Fathers Garrett Nelson and Ryan Erlenbush from Great Falls-Billings were invited by Republican senatorial candidate Matt Rosendale to sit in the VIP section during Trump's speech in Great Falls, Montana on Thursday.
Liberal Catholics immediately complained to the bishops and Bp. Michael Warfel of Great Falls-Billings responded, disapproving of the priests' attendance, saying they were "manipulated and used unwittingly," clarifying that he was also invited but declined to attend.
The diocese of Helena, currently without a bishop, also disapproved, issuing a statement reiterating its guidelines that religious leaders should avoid participating in political party matters.
At the rally, Rosendale praised Trump's efforts to fight for Montana residents, saying, "He's also fighting for everyone across our state who feels their voice isn't being heard, including the unborn."
Many people on social media, outraged by the priests' presence, slammed them and other Catholics as hypocrites for being pro-life while anti-immigration and anti-welfare.
Father Christofferson, at the request of Msgr. Kevin O'Neill, the administrator of the diocese of Helena, published a public response on Facebook that he later deleted due to the comments.
"By opening that post to public comment, we have given the apparatus of the far left their day in court and we have heard the verdict," he said.
Father Christofferson also denied holding a campaign sign, cheering and clapping for the controversial remarks by Trump. He noted they only went to see a sitting president in their hometown, something that hasn't happened since Jimmy Carter was president.
In a second Facebook post on Tuesday, Msgr. O'Neill quoted Fr. Lebsock, "I write to apologize to you [diocesan administrator], to the diocese and to the people who have been hurt. ... My intention was to show that the Church is part of society and desires to be represented in political life."
Earlier in the year, one of the priests, Fr. Erlenbush, was chastised by Bp. Warfel for speaking out against a diocesan school fundraiser co-chaired by a same-sex "married" couple.
Reaction to the four priests' presence at the Trump rally was swift. Left-wing activists called for others to flood the IRS with complaints.