MADISON, Wisconsin – A Wisconsin bishop has taken the unusual step of removing a priest from the ministry after making a series of controversial remarks about politics and the pandemic.
The Diocese of La Crosse said in a statement Friday that Bishop William Patrick Callahan had issued an executive order immediately removing Father James Altman from St. James the Less, a parish in the town of La Crosse on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, about 140 miles to the southeast. of Minneapolis. The decree will remain in force for an indefinite period, according to the press release.
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“(The bishop) and his diocesan representatives have spent more than a year, in prayer and fraternally, working on a resolution related to the ongoing public and ecclesial concerns of Fr. James Altman’s ministry,” the statement said. “The obligation of a bishop is to ensure that all who serve the faithful are able to do so while unifying and building up the Body of Christ.”
Diocesan officials did not publish the decree and did not immediately respond to a request for a copy.
Altman did not respond to an Associated Press email requesting comment Friday morning. Parish voicemail was not accepting messages for Altman or the parish secretary.
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Altman rose to prominence ahead of the 2020 presidential election with a fiery YouTube video in which he said Catholics cannot be Democrats and that anyone who supports Democrats will burn in hell.
He also sharply criticized COVID-19 vaccination efforts and pandemic-related restrictions on religious gatherings as “Nazi controls.” His orthodox approach to Mass and sermons prompted some members of the ward to leave St. James but galvanized others.
Callahan asked him to resign in May. Altman announced Callahan’s request to his parishioners during mass, pulling audible “no’s” from the crowd, a YouTube video of the ceremony shows.
Altman refused to resign, saying the Catholic hierarchy wanted him to leave because he was telling the truth and called American bishops “cowards” and “brood of vipers” in videos online. Supporters across the United States responded quickly, raising more than $ 700,000 through Christian crowdfunding sites in his defense in June.
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Altman can appeal Callahan’s decree to the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, which can confirm or vary Callahan’s decision. A new Vatican revision is possible if the priest does not agree with the decision of the Congregation.
Requests for the resignation of a priest are not uncommon, but they rarely lead to such a high-profile refusal, according to Catholic observers.
One of the rare cases of this type in the United States occurred in 2002, when a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston refused to step down on a charge of sexually assaulting a child three decades earlier. Father D. George Spagnolia took his case to the Vatican but was unable to reverse his suspension. He died in 2008.
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More recently, Father Frank Pavone, an anti-abortion activist who runs Priests for Life, appealed to the Vatican about restrictions placed on his ministry in 2011 by his bishop in Amarillo, Texas. Pavone was successful in easing restrictions, moved away from Texas, and remains active with Priests for Life.