La Crosse bishop to correct ‘Catholics can’t be Democrats’ priest, Fr. James Altman

La Crosse bishop to correct ‘Catholics can’t be Democrats’ priest

Fr. James Altman. YouTube screenshot.
Fr. James Altman. YouTube screenshot.

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After a Wisconsin priest said in a viral video that no Catholic can be a Democrat, the priest’s bishop will attempt fraternal correction, and said Wednesday the priest has inflicted a “wound” upon the Church. A Texas bishop, however, has doubled down on his support for the priest.

“I am applying Gospel principles to the correction of Fr. Altman. ‘If your brother does something wrong to you, go to him. Talk alone to him and tell him what he has done. If he listens to you, you have kept your brother as a friend. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two others with you to talk to him.’ (Mt 18:15-16).”

“I have begun this process, not in the bright light of the public arena, but as the Gospel dictates, in private,” Bishop William Callahan of La Crosse said in a Sept. 9 statement.

“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,” the bishop added, in reference to canon 1341 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law.

Fr. James Altmann, a priest of La Crosse, gained attention after an Aug. 30 video was published on YouTube, in which the priest said that “You can not be Catholic and be a Democrat. Period.”

In the ten-minute video, which has been viewed on YouTube more than 400,000 times, the priest said that he had “crunched the numbers,” and “I came up with a pretty close approximation of how many Catholics voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Zero.”

“There will be 60 million aborted babies standing at the gates of heaven barring your Democrat entrance," Altman added, while criticizing the Democratic platform’s commitment to legal protection for abortion.

The priest also decried the “climate change hoax,” and lamented "DACA- which means criminal illegal aliens,” he said.

He also criticized Archbishop Wilton Gregory, and praised President Donald Trump as “one of the best pro-life presidents.”

While the Catholic Church condemns support for the legal protection of abortion, it does not prohibit membership in the Democratic Party, and in recent months, some bishops have recognized the voices of pro-life Democrats advocating for changes to their party’s platform on the issue of abortion.

The priest’s video gained even more attention after Tyler, Texas Bishop Joseph Strickland “endorsed” it over the weekend.

“As the Bishop of Tyler I endorse Fr Altman’s statement in this video. My shame is that it has taken me so long.  Thank you Fr Altman for your COURAGE. If you love Jesus & His Church & this nation...pleases HEED THIS MESSAGE,” Strickland tweeted Sept. 5.

Strickland did not respond to questions regarding the video from CNA, but did email a statement Wednesday afternoon, in which the bishop reiterated on his support for Altman's video.

“I support Fr. James Altman's video because I believe, not only Catholic Christians, but ALL God's people must ask themselves some tough questions each time they prepare to cast their vote in any local, state, or national election.

“Voting is not an easy task nor one to be taken lightly. On the contrary; it requires research, prayer, and discernment. We must ask ourselves- Do we believe in God. Do we as a nation believe in God?” Strickland wrote, adding that Catholics must also ask themselves if they believe in God's commandment's and in Catholic Tradition. 

“Are we willing to acknowledg our sins and seek repentance and reparation as individuals and as a nation? Are we casting our vote through the lens of Jesus Christ and his Teachings?”

“If my support of Father Altman can prompt meaningful conversations and prayerful discernment about these questions, then I am at least beginning to fulfill my role as a pastor of souls and a disciple of Jesus Christ,” Strickland added.

For his part, Callahan noted that Altman has become a symbolic figure in a fractured conversation about Catholicism and partisanship in America.

Callahan emphasized that he understands “the undeniable truth that motivates his message. When we approach issues that are contradictory to the Faith and teachings of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church, particularly on abortion and other life issues, we should invite dialogue and heart-felt conversion to the truth. Our approach must never seek to divide, isolate and condemn.”

“That being said it is not only the underlying truth that needs to be evaluated but also the manner of delivery and the tone of his message. Unfortunately, the tone Fr. Altman offers comes off as angry and judgmental, lacking any charity and in a way that causes scandal both in the Church and in society. His generalization and condemnation of entire groups of people is completely inappropriate and not in keeping with our values or the life of virtue,” the bishop insisted.

Altman is the pastor of St. James the Less Parish in La Crosse. He was ordained a priest in 2008, and had worked as an attorney before entering seminary. At a previous parish, St. Peter and Paul, the priest was criticized after a cemetery care fund was reportedly drained, and upkeep at the cemetery declined. The La Crosse diocese did not respond to questions from CNA about the cemetery fund.

Callahan's statement recognized that many Catholics are looking to him for clarity.

“The amount of calls and emails we are receiving at the Diocesan offices show how divisive he is. I am being pressured by both sides for a comment; one side holds him up as a hero or a prophet, the other side condemns him and vilifies him and demands I silence him,” the bishop wrote.

“Most people expect a decisive move from me, one way or another. Many suggest immediate penalties that will utterly silence him; others call for complete and unwavering support of his views. Canonical penalties are not far away if my attempts at fraternal correction do not work.”

“I pray that Fr. Altman’s heart and eyes might be open to the error of his ways and that he might take steps to correct his behavior and heal the wound he has inflicted on the Body of Christ.”

Ed. note: This report was updated shortly after publication, when Strickland emailed comments to CNA.

Tags: Abortion, Catholic News, Bishop Joseph Strickland, 2020 presidential election, Diocese of La Crosse, Bishop William Callahan, Fr. James Altman

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