Bishop William Callahan of the Diocese of La Crosse in Wisconsin, has requested that Fr. James Altman resign as pastor of St. James the Less Catholic Church in La Crosse. Fr. Altman caused controversy last year when he posted a video on YouTube that one could not be a Democrat and be a Catholic because of the Democrat party’s support of abortion. Fr. Altman has also been outspoken from his pulpit on opposition to DACA, what he calls the “climate change hoax,” opinions on racism, feminism, border-line anti-Semitic statements, his claim that the COVID pandemic is a hoax, and recommending that his parishioners not receive the COVID vaccine.
Fr. Altman said one of the reasons women could not be priests is that, “Women can’t preach, because we need the truth when listening to what matters for eternal salvation. We don’t need you to say ‘does my dress make me look fat,’ as the joke goes.” As well, he spoke of “the ambiguity” of women preaching, “and its like they [women] expect you to read their minds.” As for the COVID-19 vaccines, Fr. Altman repeated in the bulletin for his parish the debunked claim that the vaccines represent “an experimental use of a genetic altering substance that modifies YOUR BODY — YOUR Temple of the Holy Spirit. It is NOT a vaccine.”
Whether one agrees with Fr. Altman on any particular issue or not is beside the point. The point is that Fr. Altman has turned his pulpit into a device for communicating his own political agenda, and not an instrument for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am not opposed to priests and other religious figures communicating their political ideas. But, the pulpit is not the place for doing so, and neither is the parish bulletin. It is clear that Fr. Altman possesses an “us vs. them” attitude toward his bishop specifically and the magisterium generally, and that he has encouraged this attitude among his parishioners. Bishop Callahan has requested Fr. Altman’s resignation because Fr. Altman is “divisive and ineffective.” Based on what I have read, that seems to be the case.
The only prayer to offer in cases like this is one of reconciliation and unity. By God’s grace, Bishop Callahan, who has attempted dialogue with Fr. Altman without success, will be able through this action to reach Fr. Altman in a way dialogue could not. I pray that Fr. Altman will listen and realize the purpose of his priesthood is to be a servant to the gospel and that he can only do this in union with his bishop. At this time, Fr. Altman says his plan is to contest the request for his resignation.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.