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They justify everything, and question none

— Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest

The image of the four Catholic priests participating with full-throated enthusiasm at the recent Trump Rally haunts us and elicits a considerable sadness. Though it is not for us to judge, their clerical attire, VIP status and camera-hungry positioning suggests they knew full well what they were doing. However, it is not at all clear they have a clue as to what they have done. To say it was inappropriate, or imprudent, is to say precious little at all. To dismiss the sorry episode as a “mistake,” or an innocent foray into partisan politics, is to ignore the seriousness of the moment. To even the most casual observer, they seem to have been there not as impartial spectators, but to bear witness. Therein lies the tragedy. Like it or not, they appeared fully engaged and acquiescent to what can only be described as a diatribe against the very values they were ordained to proclaim.

The gospel has no place for degrading human beings. No place for racist slurs. No place for berating those seeking asylum from oppression. No place for fearmongering, sexism, and untruth. Intentional or not, the foursome left the impression of affirmation and support. No doubt about it. And we are all the lesser for it. They did indeed get the attention they might have anticipated, and they did indeed send a message by their glaring presence. A message of the most disturbing kind. But they are relatively young, and the future still stretches before them. Perhaps this egregious stumble will be an occasion of “grace,” for them. An opportunity to reassess and discover at last, why they chose to be ordained in the first place.

Pope Francis reminds us that each of us is called to a radical kind of love, regardless of religious affiliation, or absence thereof. A love that is as close as every human hand and face. One enshrined in the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the gentle of heart..those who hunger for justice..the merciful..the peacemakers.. A high bar indeed. We are old enough to remember the invitation of Vatican II to engage the world on behalf of compassion, peace and justice. Old enough to remember the priests among us, several now lost to the sands of time, who inspired so many. Above all, old enough to remember Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen’s embodiment of the true meaning of priesthood and leadership. Of his commitment to bringing out the best in all of us. Whether sounding the alarm against nuclear weapons, standing for the dignity of women, or reaching out to the poor and oppressed, he was and remains a role model to this day. For whatever intentions may have gone into the decision of the four clerics who chose to appear at the rally, they have unintentionally tarnished the image, history, and tradition of Montana Catholic clergy that Hunthausen exemplifies. How proud we are of him, still gracing our midst. How embarrassed we are of this recent, unsettling event.

We take no pleasure in writing this. These are trying times for all of us. More so for the four priests now in the spotlight. Certainly, they might be tempted to go into a defensive crouch. However, we want to believe they are better individuals than that. Perhaps their superiors would grant leave time for a spiritual retreat. One far away from stained glass and vigil lights. A Boots on the Ground sojourn if you will. Perhaps time with the immigrant families caught in the callous web along the Texas-Mexico border. Perhaps working in one of the homeless shelters or countless soup kitchens scattered throughout the country. Then too, there is always need for compassion and counsel for victims aligned with the #MeToo movement. Consider taking along the writings of Dorothy Day. Thomas Merton. Caesar Chavez. Mother Teresa. Daniel Berrigan. And above all Matthew 5. As the future unfolds, perhaps their ministry will help bring healing and compassion to our broken world. A priesthood that takes on the powers that be on behalf of those with no voice. One that invites us to become better versions of ourselves. One that is about building each other up, rather than tearing one another down. Until then, please, please, no more Trump rallies.

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Con Joe Kelly and Michael Miles were both formerly members of the priest faculty at Carroll College. They are also former co-pastors at Resurrection Parish in Bozeman.