Wisconsin priest rejects bishop’s resignation request

Madison, Wisconsin (AP) — Rev. James Altman calls himself a “low-ranking priest” who serves in the blue-collar city of western Wisconsin. But when his bishop demanded his resignation after a series of conflicts of opinion about politics and the pandemic, Altman denied his duty and has since received more than $ 640,000 from conservative supporters to protect himself. Collected.

It is not unprecedented, but it is certainly rare for a Catholic priest to refuse to follow the bishop’s call for resignation. The case of Altman, who gained national attention and made him a kind of celebrity among conservative Catholics, further facilitated the division between them and those seeking a more progressive and inclusive church. Yes.

Altman, a pastor of the St. James the Les Roman Catholic Church in Lacrosse, became famous for his vigorous movement before the 2020 elections. YouTube videos..

“You can’t be a Catholic and a Democrat,” Altman said, warning people to “repent of their support for the party and its platform, or face the fire of hell.”

He recently reiterated his feelings and criticized vaccination efforts and restrictions on COVID-19-related church gatherings.

On May 23, Altman announced in his sermon that the Bishop of Lacrosse, the Diocese of William Patrick Callahan, had called for his resignation.

“They now want my head to tell the truth,” Altman told the congregation. “It seems that I, a junior priest, made enemies on several levels.”

The diocese issued a statement the next day confirming Callahan’s request and Altman’s resignation, stating that he would begin the process of dismissing him in accordance with Catholic law.

Altman resisted the procedure, but said he needed money to hire a lawyer. His supporters across the United States responded swiftly.

LifeFunder, a crowdfunding site for conservative Christians, has begun raising $ 100,000 for Altman. By Thursday, we had raised over $ 322,000. Another Christian crowdfunding site, GiveSendGo, has raised over $ 326,000.

“As you know, Fr. Altman has been exposed to villainous persecution just by taking care of the flock as a shepherd,” said the message of Give Send Go.

Altman did not respond to the message that the Associated Press left in the church office. A video posted by LifeFunder shows him calling the bishops who oppose the Catholic hierarchy and who don’t support him “cowards” or “viper swarms” and the liberals “left-wing fascist Nazis.” It is.

“I never think of myself as great, but it tells me that people need to hear the truth,” he said of the fundraising campaign. ..

Most of Callahan’s fellow bishops across the United States have not publicly commented on the incident, but one of them — Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas — tweeted his support for Altman.

Altman “has a hard time telling the truth,” Strickland tweeted. “He inspires many to maintain faith in this dark age. Let’s pray for him.”

Conversely, Faithful America, a self-proclaimed Christian online community, has launched a petition to exclude Altman from the ministry because of his remarks about the pandemic.

“Fr. Altman is endangering not only his own parishioners, but all the important workers they meet, and should be eliminated before he endangers one more life.”

In an email, David Croutier, a professor of moral theology at The Catholic University of America, said Altman “clearly exceeds the limits in that he no longer explicitly states certain Catholic teachings.” Was.

“He instead became a conservative commentator on cultural issues that may not be particularly’Catholic’or or that the priest may be incompatible with Catholic principles,” Krutier added.

La Crosse is a city with a population of 50,000 on the Mississippi River, about 200 kilometers southeast of Minneapolis. The Altman church was built in 1901. The red brick walls and towering dome are local landmarks.

The congregation split over Altman.

Carol Patterson attended the Mass at St. James for 50 years until she was taken to another church by Altman’s style and preaching last year.She was deeply involved in church activities, He never hesitated to hear his name.

It was a difficult decision to quit. Both Paterson and her daughter were married in St. James, and her late husband was buried under her patronage.

“I didn’t agree with what he (Altman) was doing,” Patterson said. “The Democrats have fallen into hell and advised people not to take shots so they don’t get masks. … I liked St. James, but I can’t help it anymore. It raised my blood pressure. “

Monica Mohan made two 80-mile drives from her Fall Creek home to La Cross to attend the Mass with Altman. She said he adhered to Catholic principles and is currently facing pressure from the church hierarchy trying to “weaken” his faith.

“I have never seen a priest so joyful during communion. This parish is his family. He separates his father from his family, even though he teaches nothing against his faith. I can’t think of it. It’s sneaky. “”

If Altman continues to rebel, the legal process laid down in the Catholic Canon Code can be lengthened.

According to William Daniel, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University, priests who are asked to resign by the bishop have the option of submitting a defense. The bishop then consults with the other two ministers and issues a proclamation to dismiss the priest if he finds the action still justified.

Daniel said that if the bishop considers the bishop’s decision to be unjust, he can file a proceeding with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy and support or change the bishop’s decision. If you disagree with, further Vatican reviews are possible.

It’s not uncommon to ask for a priest’s resignation, but it rarely leads to the famous refusal to resign, Daniel said.

One of the few such cases in the United States occurred in 2002, when a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston declined to decline accusations of sexually abusing a child 30 years ago. Rev. D. George Spagnolia brought his proceedings to the Vatican, but was unable to revoke his suspension. He died in 2008.

More recently, Rev. Frank Pavone, an anti-abortion activist and head of Priest for Life, has appealed to the Vatican about restrictions on his ministry imposed by his bishop in Amarillo, Texas in 2011. Pavone has succeeded in relaxing the restrictions, has moved away from Texas and continues to work in Priests for Life.

Pavone strongly supports Altman’s right to resist the request for resignation.

“The bishops have made mistakes and, sadly, some bishops are terribly abusing their authority, as in my case,” Pavone said in an email. “We call ourselves. You need to be able to protect.


Crary reported from Carbondale, Colorado.