A controversial priest in La Crosse could be removed from his post, after saying he will challenge a request for him to resign.
Father James Altman said at his sermon Sunday that the head of the Diocese of La Crosse told him to step down last Friday.
The diocese confirmed that, saying it will follow church procedure in an effort to remove him as pastor from his church. A statement from the diocese can be read at the bottom of this story, but says, in part, “The salvation of souls takes precedence over the stability of the pastor in office when these two values come into direct conflict. Although attempts were made to allow Fr. Altman the opportunity to respond to fraternal correction, a resolution of this situation has been unsuccessful.”
Altman, on Sunday during the sermon, said, “So, for the record dear family, Bishop Callahan has asked me to resign as pastor as of this past Friday, two days ago, because I am divisive and ineffective.”
The priest at St. James the Less on the north side of La Crosse made headlines a couple of times over the past year, going after Democrats, COVID-19 protocols, among other things.
He made comments back in September like Democratic Catholics need to repent or “face the fires of hell.”
“So just quit pretending that you’re Catholic and vote Democrat,” Altman says on a far-right media group video back in September. “Repent of your support of that party and its platform or face the fires of hell.”
He later says, in the third person, in the video, “‘Oh, you’re just being political. Father Altman’s too political. Politics has no place in the Catholic Church.’ Bologna.”
After that video, Callahan put out a statement that people are expecting the bishop to make a ‘decisive move’ … either to embrace Altman’s remarks, or to ‘silence him,’ but never took any specific action.
During service over the Easter holiday, Altman was at it again, this time going after COVID-19 protocols.
“Their use of peer pressure to force you into Godless conformity is damnable,” it said in the Easter bulletin. “God is still the best doctor and prayer is still the best medicine.”
He said during a Palm Sunday mass that the COVID-19 protocols were “godless” and “Nazi-esque controls.”
After that, a Christian group started a petition to “Fire anti-vaccine Catholic priest,” that’s received over 18,500 signatures.
Altman said his lawyer will challenge Callahan’s request to resign.
“In response my canon lawyer asked for clarification, asked for the justification and a chance to review what was in my file that suggested I was so divisive and ineffective,” Altman said. “And I say all this only because, I’m no expert on canon law, but understand only that while we are contesting Bishop’s request — and we are — he could, in theory, appoint a parish administrator whilst I remain a pastor without duties, until the appeal goes through Rome, which could take up to a year or more.”
A donations website that created a fundraiser says Altman has been “the subject to diabolical persecution just for doing his job as a shepherd to his flock,” has raised over $175,900 as of early Tuesday to help with Altman’s lawyer fees. The initial goal was $20,000.
That fundraiser was created by “Caritas in Veritate.” An update on the site says, “Father was in awe and is extremely grateful. He said Canon lawyers cost $250/hr so this is really helpful.”
On Monday afternoon, the Diocese of La Crosse responded with this statement:
Diocesan Statement Regarding Father James Altman
Fr. James Altman has recently made public the request from Bishop William Patrick Callahan that he resign his office of pastor of Saint James the Less Parish in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, as well as his intent to decline the request. As a result, the Diocese of La Crosse will respond in accordance to the canonical process as needed for the removal of a priest from his office as pastor.
During the past year, concerns have been expressed related to the ministry of Fr. James Altman, a priest in the Diocese of La Crosse. Bishop Callahan of the Diocese of La Crosse, and canonical representatives have worked to fraternally and privately address those concerns. The process has been pastoral and administrative with a desire toward a just resolution among all parties.
The ministry of pastor was instituted in the Church not for the benefit of the one to whom it is entrusted, but for the pastoral and sacramental care of those for whom it is conferred. The salvation of souls takes precedence over the stability of the pastor in office when these two values come into direct conflict. Although attempts were made to allow Fr. Altman the opportunity to respond to fraternal correction, a resolution of this situation has been unsuccessful.
It is important to note that this is not a penal remedy but a pastoral remedy. Bishop Callahan asks for your prayers for Fr. Altman, for the congregation of St. James, and the faithful of the Diocese of La Crosse and beyond. While any change made to the ministry of a pastor is difficult, it is done with the hope that God’s work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the Body of Christ for a positive outcome.
The Diocese of La Crosse asks for the consideration of respect, safety and prayers at this time for all involved.