Father Altman did not go quietly into the night.
His removal as pastor of St. James Church, La Crosse, was announced May 23, 2021. On July 9, Bishop William Callahan issued a decree that Altman was to reside in the La Crosse Diocese, make a 30-day retreat, and meet at least once a month with the diocesan vicar for the clergy.
Moreover, Altman was prohibited from preaching or celebrating Mass in public. The diocesan announcement also stated that Bishop Callahan and his representatives had spent over a year “working toward a resolution related to ongoing public and ecclesial concerns” with Altman.
Just two days after his removal from the parish, Altman spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas. He prayed over the attendees and spoke against cultural elites.
In late July, Altman attended the Napa’s Institute’s summer conference in California. The Napa Institute is lead by wealthy Catholics who do not support the agenda of Pope Francis. Altman was pictured in the background of a photo that included Arina Grossu, one of the organizers of the Jericho March, a pro-Trump Christian group “that sought divine intervention to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election,” according to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR).
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In a video posted on Facebook July 26, Altman presented a $100,000 check to a co-founder of The Coalition of Canceled Priests (CCP). This amount is a fraction of the $650,000 Altman has raised through Christian crowdfunding sites such as GiveSendGo and LifeFunder. In presenting this check, Altman referred to bishops who discipline their priests as “these little tyrants that are in mitres.”
On its website, CCP says it has applied to the IRS for nonprofit status, but that status is still pending. Hence, all donations to it are not tax-exempt. Incidentally, CCP announced a public event Sept. 10 in Chicago listing Altman as a featured speaker.
Altman’s controversial profile exploded on the national scene in August 2020. In a slickly produced You Tube video, he railed against Democrats, slurred migrants, dismissed climate change as a hoax, and attacked Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington. Since then, his parish bulletins and interviews have spread misinformation about COVID and vaccines. He once described racial lynching in the Jim Crow-era in the South as “capital punishment.”
On May 23, Altman said he had retained a canon (church) lawyer to defend his case. The canon lawyers interviewed by NCR unanimously say that Altman should be toning it down if he wants his case to have a chance in Rome.
Robert Flummerfelt, a Las Vegas-based canon lawyer says, “If anything, Altman’s behavior strengthens the bishop’s case.” Flummerfelt adds that Altman “is setting it up for the bishop and Rome saying they have no choice but to uphold [the decree].” Altman continues to commit acts which have negative impact on church communion, not only in the diocese but the wider church.
Recently, I received a copy of a statement dated Aug. 12 by Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque regarding a radio event featuring Altman. First of all, Jackels states the radio station cannot claim the name Catholic. “Its directors are Catholic. It airs Catholic programs. But it has no formal relationship with the Church or the Archdiocese.”
Secondly, Jackels explains that in a recent speaking event, Altman stated that some of the Vatican II documents were “bad news” that opened the way to heresy. Altman went on to say that Bishop Robert Barron — a world leader in Catholic education and formation about Vatican II — should take back what he said about these documents or be thrown out of the Catholic Church.
Obviously, Jackels discouraged faithful Catholics from attending the event.
It will take some time, but Altman will lose his case in Rome. With over $500,000 remaining, and the support of ultra-right Catholics, he will continue his renegade ways.
Vince Hatt has been a spiritual director for over 40 years. He has a master’s degree in religious education from Catholic University and a master’s degree in theology from the Aquinas Institute.