James Altman, Priest Who Said Catholics Can't Be Democrats, Removed From Posting by Bishop

Rev. James Altman, the Wisconsin priest who declared Catholics cannot be Democrats in a YouTube video, was removed from his posting in a decree by a bishop.

Bishop William Patrick Callahan removed Altman from serving as a pastor for St. James the Less parish in the city of La Crosse, the city's diocese said in a statement Friday. The decree of Altman's removal will remain in effect unless it is determined otherwise. Altman's controversial YouTube video was posted before the 2020 presidential election where he said Democrat supporters will burn in hell.

"(The bishop) and his diocesan representatives have spent over a year, prayerfully and fraternally, working toward a resolution related to ongoing public and ecclesial concerns of the ministry of Fr. James Altman," the Diocese of La Crosse's statement said.

"Unfortunately for the corrupt hierarchy, I will not be silenced by any arbitrary Decree, nor will I be cowed by any action against my priestly faculties," Altman told conservative news publication LifeSiteNews.com

Callahan asked Altman to resign in May but he refused to do so. He then lambasted U.S. bishops in online videos by saying they are "cowards" and a "brood of vipers."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Catholic Church in Wisconsin
Wisconsin priest James Altman, who said Democrats can't be Catholics, was removed from his post as pastor at St. James the Less Parish in La Crosse. In this photo, St. Francis Of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is seen on June 15, 2012. Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Callahan took the unusual step of removing Altman after he also made a series of divisive remarks about the pandemic.

St. James the Less is a parish in the city of La Crosse on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) southeast of Minneapolis.

"The obligation of a Bishop is to ensure that all who serve the faithful are able to do so while unifying and building the Body of Christ," the diocese statement said.

Diocese officials didn't release the decree and didn't immediately respond to a request for a copy.

Altman told conservative news outlet LifeSiteNews.com that he's not surprised the Catholic hierarchy is trying to silence him.

Altman didn't elaborate on how he would not be silenced. He didn't respond to an Associated Press email seeking comment Friday morning. His parish's voicemail wouldn't accept messages for Altman or the parish secretary.

He also has sharply criticized COVID-19 vaccination efforts and pandemic-related restrictions on church gatherings as "Nazi-esque controls." His orthodox approach to Mass and sermons has driven some parish members to leave St. James but has galvanized others.

When Callahan asked him to resign in May, Altman announced Callahan's request to his parishioners during Mass, drawing audible "Nos" from the crowd, a YouTube video of the ceremony shows.

Altman refused to step down, saying the Catholic hierarchy wants him gone because he speaks the truth and calling U.S. bishops "cowards" and a "brood of vipers" in online videos. Supporters across the United States responded swiftly, raising more than $700,000 through Christian crowdfunding sites for his defense in June.

Altman can appeal Callahan's decree to the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy, which can uphold or change Callahan's decision. A further Vatican review is possible if the priest disagrees with the Congregation's decision.

Requests that a priest resign aren't uncommon but they rarely lead to such a high-profile refusal, Catholic observers say.

One of the few such cases in the U.S. came in 2002, when a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston refused to step down over an accusation that he sexually abused a child three decades earlier. The Rev. D. George Spagnolia took his case to the Vatican but was unable to overturn his suspension. He died in 2008.

More recently, the Rev. Frank Pavone, an anti-abortion activist who heads Priests for Life, appealed to the Vatican over restrictions placed on his ministry in 2011 by his bishop in Amarillo, Texas. Pavone succeeded in getting the restrictions eased, relocated away from Texas and remains active with Priests for Life.