A Wisconsin priest who has faced criticism for his defiance of COVID-19 restrictions and his vocal skepticism on the pandemic and vaccine told his congregants last weekend he has been asked to step down.
The Rev. James Altman told his flock at St. James the Less Catholic Church in La Crosse, Wisconsin on Pentecost Sunday that the Bishop of the La Crosse diocese, William Callahan, has asked him to resign — a request that Altman will be challenging with his canon lawyer.
“For the record, dear family, Bishop Callahan has asked me to resign as pastor as of this past Friday,” he told his congregants, “because I am ‘divisive’ and ‘ineffective.’”
Emphatic cries of “no!” and what sounded like more lengthily worded objections to the notion that their flock’s shepherd would be stepping down could be heard from the pews in a YouTube video of Sunday’s mass:
“In response, my canon lawyer asked for clarification, asked for the justification and a chance to review what was in my file that suggested I was so ‘divisive’ and ‘ineffective,’” Rev. Altman continued.
“And I say all this only because I’m no expert on canon law but understand only that while we are contesting Bishop’s request, and we are, he could, in theory, appoint a parish administrator whilst I remain a pastor without duties until the appeal goes through Rome which could take upwards of a year or more, I speak only on my understanding of what could happen, not what will happen.”
During his fiery homily, the Rev. Altman laid out his case that any division he has caused was done so in pursuit of his calling to obey Christ and to provide his congregants with the sacraments that Catholics view as necessary to maintain a state of grace, going as far as to accuse those who have not met the spiritual needs of their flocks of putting souls in peril.
He pointed to the Words of Christ himself, who specifically said in both the Gospels of John and Luke that he brought with him division. (Matt 10, Luke 10)
“There is division. Jesus came to divide the truth vs. the lie, the sheep vs. the goats, the few vs. the many. As we know He will come again, He promised to divide those few sheep from those many goats,” the priest said.
“So dear family you have to ask yourself, why is anyone accusing me of being divisive, like as if that is a bad thing?” he asked his flock.
“If we know that the truth divides… then why is any good Catholic complaining of me being divisive?” he continued, noting that in 14 months of criticism from the media and Catholic establishment, no one has once accused him of not speaking the truth.
“No good Catholic is complaining,” he said pointedly.
Earlier, he explained that while he has been accused of “disrespecting the office” of Catholic leadership, that it is the “shepherds who lock the people out of the churches and denied access to the sacraments” who “have disrespected their office more than we possibly could.”
“What really is at play here, dear family, is that other shepherds are offended because I simply state the facts that they abandoned their sheep in a time of need,” he also said.
The priest pointed to “20 years of scandal after scandal revealed” within the Catholic church and the “billions paid out to victims in the coup de gras after they dared to lock the faithful out of the church and deny them the sacraments.”
“Nothing I ever could say could ever come close to disrespecting their office as they have disrespected their office,” he charged.
Meanwhile, as far as the accusation that he is “ineffective,” Rev. Altman pointed to impressive collection envelope figures as well as donations from all over the world thanks to the viral nature of his defiant stance on COVID-19 restrictions and vaccination that have helped address some of the church’s biggest needs, including ramps and bathroom facilities that make the building more accessible to elderly congregants.
More important than the “staggering” donations that have come from visitors to the church as well as supporters all around the world, however, was the rate at which St. James has been growing in number — they’ve seen double the number of new baptisms, he said.
This is not an isolated case for the good reverend — other churches are also seeing spiking rates of attendance and new baptism, something which the Liberty Counsel recently noted of the Romanian Pentecostal churches in Chicago that they are representing in lawsuits against Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and whose charges of “disorderly conduct and mob action” for holding services with more than ten people were just dropped by the city.
In Rev. Altman’s case, it is the hierarchy of his own church he is standing up against, but he pointed to the fallibility of such leadership in the case of those who have advocated for shutting churches up or for Catholics to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which he derides as an “experimental injection.”
He quoted the martyr St. Maximilian Kolbe, whom he cheekily noted Bishop Callahan would certainly be familiar with:
“A superior may, it is true, make a mistake, but it is impossible for us to be mistaken in obeying a superior’s command, the only exception to this rule is in the case a superior commanding something that in even the slightest way would contravene God’s law. Such a superior would not be conveying God’s will.”
Altman said many officers of the church have not only refused to apologize for closing their doors to congregants during the lockdown, but are now framing it as a Catholic’s “moral duty” to receive the “experimental injection” as Pope Francis has done.
“Dear family, their statement, from the Bishop of Rome on down is not infallible,” he said. Altman is not the first Catholic leader to raise a concern about the vaccinations, however, and there have been specific concerns surrounding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine specifically as it was initially developed using cell lines that began with an aborted baby.
Still, he indicated some have even suggested requiring a vaccine to attend mass, which if true, to a Catholic, would be to deny the unvaccinated the sacraments of the church.
“To threaten any priest or person who chooses not to be a part of the experiment with the denial of the sacraments, that’s not from heaven. That is not Jesus’ command,” Altman said.
In sharp criticism of modern trends in Catholic churches that mirror similar failures in all of Christendom, Altman pointed to “60 years of failure to teach the catechism” and the fact that “80 percent of Catholics no longer believe in the real presence,” which is the belief in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.
“What catechism have they not been taught?” he asked of those so willing to forsake participation of this central Roman Catholic religious practice.
“Yet now, I regret to inform you, they want my head on a platter. They want my head now, for speaking the truth. I apparently have created enemies in the hierarchy. But to paraphrase the great, great Cardinal Burke, when I die I will stand in judgment before the Lord, not any bishop of the church.”
Cardinal Burke has vocally argued that politicians who support policies that blatantly defy Catholic doctrine on issues such as abortion like President Joe Biden or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats, are “apostates” who ought to be denied communion and excommunicated from the church.
Rev. Altman, who has said that a Catholic cannot be a Democrat according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, pointed his flock towards the church’s ultimate authority and the warning from the Lord Christ that to follow him would often mean to go against the conventions of the world.
“Dear family, Jesus warned the apostles, and us, that if the world hated Him, it would hate us just because we are trying to be faithful. In other words, the world will be divided by the truth. There will be we who are faithful, who follow the truth, divided from those who are not faithful, and who oppose the truth.”
No Bible-believing Christian could possibly deny that, regardless of how one feels about the government handling of the pandemic or the vaccine, our Lord specifically told us we should expect to be divided by the oftentimes difficult task of obeying and preaching the truth.
Nor is the Catholic church the only Christian denomination in which those more content to obey the precepts of the world, from woke views on social issues to the downright denial of the authority of the Scripture, are wrestling for supremacy over the Word of God as those who believe otherwise often fail to muster up the courage to object.
Christians are not being raised up with a full and complete understanding of what it means to truly follow and obey God, which often ruffles feathers and disrupts communities. We have gotten far too comfortable in our pews, but the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly reminded us of the sword that Christ brought along with his gospel, a sword that would divide those willing to bow their knee to him above all else and those who inevitably find they’re more comfortable bowing their knee to the world.
There is not a man alive with the authority to supersede Christ’s command to his church, and those who have the willingness to stand up for this inherent biblical truth need the same kind of courage on display by this fearless priest.
It only takes one man to ignite the kind of fire he has done — imagine what the rest of us could do if we displayed the same faithful willingness to challenge the laws of man when they contradict God’s timeless commands?
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