In a letter released Tuesday, Diocese of Helena Administrator Kevin O'Neill said he regrets the pain caused by the priests from the diocese who attended President Donald Trump's rally in Great Falls July 5.
In the letter, which will be included in many Sunday bulletins throughout the diocese this week, O'Neill reflects on how the priests' actions are affecting parishioners and the clergy.
"Let me clearly state that I sincerely regret any and all confusion or hurt this incident has caused," O'Neill writes. "I have spoken to the two priests from our Diocese who have been prominently featured ... on social media. Both have assured me that their purpose in attending was to accept an invitation to be present given by one of the candidates and see the president as well."
The priests from the Helena diocese, Father Kevin Christofferson and Father Christopher Lebsock, were seated near the front of the rally in their clerical garb, had "Make America Great Again" signs and wore VIP badges. They clapped for Trump as he doubled down on his oft-repeated slur of Sen. Elizabeth Warren as "Pocahontas," mocked the #MeToo movement, and questioned the meaning of former Republican President George H.W. Bush's "Thousand Points of Light" slogan.
"A significant number of those responding to their presence (at the rally) objected to two things," O'Neill wrote. "That they were in clerical attire, and secondly that they gave the appearance of blanket support of any and all statements at the event."
"I am troubled that they were assigned such a prominent place in the arena particularly since they were dressed in clerical attire. My disappointment is underscored by their attire being associated with that of an official presence of the Diocese or as if they were acting as its official representatives, which they were not."
O'Neill wrote that Lebsock and Christofferson denied that they clapped or cheered at those points in the rally and noted that, if "analyzed in a same time comparison," there would not be evidence that they had displayed "a lack of charity or concern for their sisters or brothers in the Lord."
O'Neill quoted Lebsock as saying "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."