Nearly a month after being asked to resign, a controversial La Crosse priest has received more than half a million dollars from supporters to mount a legal defense.
Father James Altman of St. James the Less Catholic Church was asked to resign by the Diocese of La Crosse last month after a series of political messaging and misinformation first reported by the Tribune caused uproar in the Catholic community.
Altman has refused the request and stated he has obtained a canon lawyer, though it is unclear what the next steps in the process are or if Altman remains a pastor at St. James the Less as the matter is sorted out.
The Tribune reached out to the Diocese spokesperson for more information but they have not answered the questions for nine days.
In the meantime, Altman has secured over $692,000 in donations between two crowdfunding sites for legal and personal costs endured through the process. Merchandise is also being sold on a YouTube page in support of Altman known as “Caritas in Veritate,” including T-shirts reading “I stand with Father James Altman” and “You can’t be Catholic and Democrat.”
A rally and fundraiser is also scheduled later this month, hosted by Alpha News, the Minnesota-based, far-right group that has featured Altman in several videos. Ticket holders to the rally will have a “private dinner” with Altman prior to the event, which is also being live streamed.
Critics of Altman have similarly garnered thousands of signatures on online petitions calling for his removal.
It’s unclear if Altman continues to give sermons and preside over St. James the Less pending the resignation request, but videos and audio of services appear to show him giving sermons the last few Sundays.
Altman’s rhetoric has reached audiences around the world and has caused a divide in the religious community, with many Catholics flocking to his support while others separate themselves from the priest.
Other reporting shows that priests requested to resign or be removed from active ministry still remain ordained, a separate action than the “loss of clerical state,” or laicization, which removes someone as a member of the clergy rather than from employment.
Bishop William Callahan with the Diocese of La Crosse has stated that he is seeking Altman’s resignation not as a “penal remedy, but a pastoral remedy,” and Altman relayed to his parish that he was being deemed “ineffective.”
According to one section of canon law described on the Vatican’s website, an appeal must be pursued with an appellate judge within a month, though it is unclear if this process is being followed in this specific instance.