La Crosse, Wis., Jul 9, 2021 / 12:11 pm (CNA).
Fr. James Altman has been removed from ministry after Bishop William Callahan of La Crosse sought privately to correct the priest for his inflammatory, though in some circles popular, commentary on social media.
“The obligation of a bishop is to ensure that all who serve the faithful are able to do so while unifying and building the Body of Christ,” the La Crosse diocese said July 9. “Bishop William Patrick Callahan, in accordance with the norms of canon law, has issued a decree for the removal of Fr. James Altman as pastor of St. James the Less Parish.”
“The decree is effective immediately and for an indeterminate period of time. During this time Fr. Altman, must refrain from exercising the function of pastor,” the diocese said.
Bishop Callahan and his representatives, the diocese said, “have spent over a year, prayerfully and fraternally, working toward a resolution related to ongoing public and ecclesial concerns.”
The diocese will arrange for the continued pastoral care of the parishioners at the parish.
“The bishop and all the leadership of the diocese asks for the consideration of respect, safety and prayers at this time for all involved,” its statement said.
Before the decree, Fr. Altman held the role as pastor at St. James the Less Parish on the north side of La Crosse. Fr. Altman stirred controversy for numerous public statements he made in 2020 and 2021 on politics, racism, feminism, and the coronavirus pandemic. In viral video that was posted online Aug. 20, 2020, Fr. Altman said that no Catholic can be a Democrat, because of the party leadership’s support for abortion.
Bishop Callahan sought to correct the priest privately. Fr. Altman, in his homily for Pentecost Sunday, said the bishop had asked him to resign “because I am divisive and ineffective.” The priest declined the request that he resign and said he would seek to challenge it canonically.
Internet supporters appear to have given $722,000 to support his cause, according to crowdfunding sites.
The bishop’s decree denies a commendatory letter to the priest, meaning he can only celebrate Mass in private with no members of the faithful present, excepting only his parents. He may no longer preach nor assist at marriages. He may not administer baptisms, even for family members, without permission from the bishop or the relevant vicar.
Fr. Altman must reside within the La Crosse diocese and regularly meet with its vicar for clergy at least once a month until further notice. The decree invites him to make a 30-day spiritual retreat to allow him “the possibility to spiritually heal and recharge and to address the issues that caused the issuance of this decree.”
The restrictions apply until its cause has ceased to exist, and it is Father Altman’s primary responsibility to work to remove the cause, according to the decree.
Altman came to widespread attention for his ten-minute August 2020 video, viewed more than 1.2 million times on YouTube. The priest criticized Democratic Party supporters, saying “there will be 60 million aborted babies standing at the gates of heaven barring your Democrat entrance.” He noted the Democratic Party platform’s commitment to legal protection for abortion, but also decried the “climate change hoax.” He lamented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to provide accommodations for undocumented migrant U.S. residents who arrived as children. The DACA program, he said, “means criminal illegal aliens.”
Following the video, Bishop Callahan said Sept. 9 that Fr. Altman had inflicted a “wound” upon the Church and said he would correct him privately.
Altman has since contended that the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol by a medley of supporters of President Donald Trump and the QAnon movement were a “false flag.” His messages to parishioners in April parish bulletins claimed that the COVID-19 vaccines are “experimental” use of “a genetic altering substance that modifies YOUR BODY – YOUR Temple of the Holy Spirit.”
“God is still the best doctor and prayer is still the best medicine,” he said.
On Pentecost Sunday the priest in his homily argued that many bishops “abandoned Catholics wholesale” in the pandemic due to health concerns or state orders.
He also noted the reaction his remarks had generated.
“They want my head on a platter,” he said of bishops. “They want my head now, for speaking the truth.”
The priest has had some support from Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, who has been outspoken on Twitter. He endorsed Fr. Altman’s video in a Sept. 5 tweet.
He tweeted his continued support for Fr. Altman in May.
“Fr James Altman is in trouble for speaking the truth,” Bishop Strickland said. “I originally supported him when he spoke bold truth during the election. I continue to support him for speaking the truth in Jesus Christ. He inspires many to keep the faith during these dark days. Let us pray for him.”
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