Controversial La Crosse priest says he will challenge bishop's request to resign

Fr. James Altman Fr. James Altman/ YouTube screenshot

Fr. James Altman, a controversial priest of the Diocese of La Crosse who published a viral video statement last year that Catholics cannot be Democrats, said on Sunday that his bishop has asked him to resign as pastor.

“For the record, dear family, Bishop [William Patrick] Callahan has asked me to resign as pastor, as of this past Friday, two days ago, because I am divisive and ineffective,” Fr. Altman, pastor of St. James the Less parish in La Crosse, Wisconsin, said in his homily posted online for May 23, Pentecost Sunday.

“They want my head on a platter,” he said of bishops. “They want my head now, for speaking the truth.”

Fr. Altman said that his canon lawyer asked the diocese to justify the request for resignation, as well as a review of his file at the chancery. He said that he is contesting the request.

Neither the La Crosse diocese nor Fr. Altman’s parish responded to requests for comment by CNA on Monday.

On Monday night, Bishop Callahan published a statement acknowledging his request for Fr. Altman's resignation and the priest’s “intent to decline the request.” The bishop said that the diocese would “respond in accordance to the canonical process as needed for the removal of a priest from his office as pastor.” He added that this is “not a penal remedy but a pastoral remedy.”

Noting “concerns” over Fr. Altman’s ministry in the past year, Bishop Callahan said that he, the diocese, and “canonical representatives” had all “worked to fraternally and privately address those concerns” in a “pastoral and administrative” process “with a desire toward a just resolution among all parties.” The attempt to reach a resolution, he said, was “unsuccessful.”

“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,” he continued. “The salvation of souls takes precedence over the stability of the pastor in office when these two values come into direct conflict.”

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.

In the ten-minute video viewed more than 1.2 million times on YouTube, Fr. Altman said, “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,” and lamented "DACA- which means criminal illegal aliens.”

Following the video, Bishop Callahan said that Fr. Altman had inflicted a “wound” upon the Church and said he would correct him privately.

“I have begun this process, not in the bright light of the public arena, but as the Gospel dictates, in private,” he said on Sept. 9.

“Canon law indicates that before penalties are imposed, we need to ensure that fraternal correction, rebuke or other means of pastoral solicitude will not be sufficient to repair the scandal,” Bishop Callahan said, in reference to canon 1341 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law.

Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, however, endorsed Fr. Altman’s video in a Sept. 5 tweet. On Monday, he tweeted his continued support for Fr. Altman.

“Fr James Altman is in trouble for speaking the truth. 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,” Bishop Strickland stated.

In a homily posted online on July 2, 2020, Fr. Altman criticized use of the terms “systemic racism” and “white privilege” as “left-wing media buzzwords,” and claimed that the “disproportionate incarceration” of Black men today is due to the “disproportionate amount of crime committed by Blacks.” While calling lynchings “capital punishment, carried out by a mob, never a good thing,” he said that top "causes" of lynchings were rape and homicide.

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He said that 360,000 “white men” died fighting in the Union army during the Civil War in an effort to end slavery, while not citing that nearly 40,000 Black Union soldiers died during the war.

According to the Wisconsin Examiner, Fr. Altman appeared on the podcast “U.S. Grace Force” in January where he referred to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol as a “false flag.”

In the podcast, he appeared to blame the killing of Breonna Taylor on her “hanging around” bad company. Taylor was a 26 year-old Black woman who was killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky on March 13, 2020, during a raid of her apartment. Taylor was shot five times by police, after her boyfriend – present with her – initially fired at officers who had breached the apartment door to execute an arrest warrant.

A grand jury in September indicted one of the officers involved with three counts of “wanton endangerment,” for firing three shots into and near Taylor’s apartment. 

“They fired all of those police that were involved in that,” Altman said, as reported by the Wisconsin Examiner. “Listen, nobody’s got the guts to say, ‘Hey sweetheart, you were hanging around a bad guy to begin with, that’s why the police were coming over there.’ And now you kick him out, you’ve got another bad guy in there who’s shooting back at the police. Okay, you brought that on yourself.” 

In an interview with Cream City Catholic, posted online April 6, 2021 under the title “God damns communism and feminism,” Fr. Altman used offensive feminine stereotypes to explain why women cannot be ordained priests.

“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,” he said. He went on to criticize “the ambiguity” of women preaching, “and it’s like they [women] expect you to read their minds.”

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In that same interview, Fr. Altman called President Joe Biden “kind of demented.”

In a radio interview that aired March 24 on The Station of the Cross program “The Simple Truth,” Fr. Altman referred to supporters of abortion as “vermin baby-killers.”

He claimed that abortions were common in the Jewish community in Warsaw, Poland before World War II. He implied that the eventual destruction of the city – which included mass deportations of the city’s Jewish population to Nazi concentration camps as part of the Holocaust – was punishment for abortion.

“[St.] Faustina warned Warsaw. The Jews in Warsaw, the doctors there, were having people coming in from all over – it was all for money – from Europe to have abortions. And she warned them, you see that in her diary, she says ‘listen, you guys, knock that stuff off.’ And then of course, they didn’t, and then in World War II, Warsaw was leveled,” he said.

The parish bulletin at St. James the Less has also called COVID-19 vaccines “experimental” and warned parishioners not to be a “guinea pig.”

A message to parishioners, published in the parish bulletin on April 18 and reported by Madison.com on April 26, called each of the three COVID-19 vaccines used in the United States “experimental” and “NOT a vaccine.”

The “injections,” as the vaccines were referred to in the bulletin, are “an experimental use of a genetic altering substance that modifies YOUR BODY - YOUR Temple of the Holy Spirit. It is NOT a vaccine.” At the end, the message was displayed, “God is still the best doctor and prayer is still the best medicine.”

In his homily on Pentecost Sunday, Fr. Altman criticized “so many” bishops who “have abandoned Catholics wholesale” during the pandemic by closing down churches due to health concerns or under state orders.

“I’ve had it with anyone who says to me, ‘oh, you have to have respect for the office’ [of bishop], like as if we cannot complain about bad management – or in the case of the rampant fear-demic Church lockouts, godless management,” he said.

“It’s not you or I who are disrespecting the office. The shepherds who locked the people out of the churches and denied access to the sacraments have disrespected their office more than we possibly could,” he said, “and we need not sit idly by as they do.”

He cited St. Maximilian Kolbe to call for disobedience to bishops if they give commands that “contravene God’s law.”

“Infinitely worse, many of them [bishops] have jumped on the injection bandwagon, daring to call it our moral duty to take the experimental injection,” he said. Neither the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops nor the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have said that Catholics have a moral obligation to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Dear family, their statement, from the Bishop of Rome on down, is not infallible,” he said, claiming that popes have made infallible statements “maybe four-to-seven times” in the Church’s history, and that “anything else” is “an opinion.”

“’It’s our moral duty to take an injection into our temples of the Holy Spirit’ is not an infallible statement,” he said.

This article was updated on May 25 with the statement by Bishop Callahan.