Petition to Fire Priest Who Blasted 'Godless' COVID Rules Signed by Thousands

An online petition to remove a priest who strongly condemned COVID-19 public safety measures garnered 10,000 signatures within 24 hours of its launch on Tuesday.

Father James Altman of St. James the Less Catholic Church in La Crosse, Wisconsin told parishioners at a mass that COVID protocols were "godless" and "Nazi-esque controls."

The church's bulletin on April 18 also featured a page discouraging worshipers from getting the COVID-19 vaccines, calling them "an experimental use of a genetic altering substance that modifies your body—your temple of the Holy Spirit."

The page was unsigned but critics have attributed it to Altman.

The petition was organized by Faithful America, which describes itself as a group of grassroots Christians. They're calling on the Bishop of La Crosse, William Callahan, to remove Altman from ministry.

"The Faithful America petition asking Bishop Callahan to fire Fr. James Altman for spreading deadly vaccine misinformation and breaking COVID-19 protocols has gathered more than 10,000 signatures in its first 24 hours. The current signature count is 11,137," the group's executive director Reverend Nathan Empsall told Newsweek in a statement. He is an Episcopal priest.

The petition's letter to Callahan says: "As your fellow Catholics and ecumenical Christians, we ask you to immediately and permanently remove Fr. James Altman from all parish ministry and pastoral leadership.

"Fr. Altman's anti-vaccine antics and flouting of diocesan and county COVID-19 protocols have reached a deadly breaking point, and can no longer wait for private correction to run its course.

"As Christians who follow a healing savior, we are called to care for the sick and respect the God-given laws of nature. Right now, that means supporting vaccines, masks, and social distancing, just like Pope Francis—not jamming our pews full of maskless parishioners and slandering life-saving public health officials such as Dr. Anthony Fauci as 'Nazi-esque' 'godless vermin.'"

The petition's goal is 15,000 signatures, but those collected so far have been submitted to Callahan's office via email. A previous petition from the group called on Callahan to rebuke Altman for a 2020 sermon arguing a person could not be both a Catholic and a Democrat. It reached 25,000 signatures.

Altman conducted a mass on April 5 that did not appear to comply with the diocese's rules about mask-wearing, social distancing and limiting capacity indoors. The La Crosse Tribune estimated that around 170 people lined up to receive communion, many not wearing masks, based on a YouTube video of the event.

Altman also told churchgoers on March 28 that those enforcing COVID rules would burn in "the lowest, hottest levels" of Hell and that Dr. Anthony Fauci's "godlessness" was "damnable in the hottest fires of Hell." These remarks were also recorded on video and posted to YouTube.

The Diocese of La Crosse told the La Crosse Tribune earlier this week that they would "privately address the concerns" surrounding Altman.

"It is a matter of concern for Bishop Callahan when Fr. James Altman, or any of his priests, address medical, political or worldly challenges in a manner that misleads or overtly condemns others," the statement said.

Newsweek has contacted the Diocese of La Crosse for comment.

A Catholic Priest with the Eucharist
Father Christopher Williams of the Basilica of San Albino performs the Eucharist during an outdoor mass on May 2, 2020 in Mesilla, New Mexico, amid the coronavirus pandemic. A Catholic priest in Wisconsin is under fire for comments criticizing COVID-19 safety measures. PAUL RATJE/AFP/Getty Images