This was dumb of me, because it has to do with canon law, and I know almost nothing about canon law. I apologize for adding heat without light. I’m sure the bishop doesn’t appreciate any more muddying of the waters.
Let me be clear: I don’t think I’m wrong about Fr. Altman’s general attitude. If you have the stomach to wade through his many recorded words, you will hear an overwhelming and unvaried tone of arrogance and defiance, and a desire to put his own judgment over anyone else’s; and I believe he is causing scandal by encouraging his followers to adopt the same attitude of defiance. I haven’t heard or read anything by him that shows Christlike humility. However, I said he was currently disobeying his bishop, and I now believe I was wrong. Here’s some better information:
According to Canon Law Made Easy, the church tries to ensure a certain amount of stability when a bishop appoints a pastor to a parish. It’s common for a pastor to be appointed for an indefinite (and usually long) amount of time, and they can’t be removed from an indefinite appointment without grave cause.
But even if there is grave cause, the bishop can’t just say “go” and the pastor has to instantly go. The bishop has to follow a procedure which includes requesting the resignation. The pastor does not have to respond to this request, and he has the right to contest the removal. The priest can argue for staying, and two other pastors examine arguments from both sides. If the bishop still thinks the pastor has to go, the pastor can appeal to Rome. While this is going on, the pastor remains a pastor, but can’t function as one; and the bishop can’t replace him; he can only appoint a parochial administrator to do his job.
So I was wrong to say that, in hiring a canon lawyer, Fr. Altman is demonstrating “utterly scrambled incoherent nonsense.” However distasteful it may appear for him to accept gobs and gobs of money while claiming he’s being persecuted, he is apparently pursuing his rights under canon law, which he is entitled to do. And this means that, while it’s hard to imagine his followers docilely accepting the bishop’s ultimate judgment on the matter, he’s not disobeying his bishop by not accepting his removal. I was just wrong about that, and I apologize. (I would, however, like to be a fly on the wall if Fr. Altman eventually makes his case in Rome. I have my quibbles with Pope Francis, but . . . well, I’d like to be a fly on the wall.)
Canon 1741 gives us a list of the principle reasons why a pastor can lawfully be removed from office. It’s important to note right away that “principle reasons” are not the only reasons, so this list is meant to be illustrative but not exhaustive. They include:
-behavior which causes grave harm to ecclesiastical communion;
-ineptitude or permanent illness which renders the priest unequal to the task of running the parish;
the loss of the priest’s good name among parishioners, or their aversion to him;
-grave neglect or violation of his duties, even after a warning; and
-bad administration of the parish’s temporal goods, causing grave harm to the Church, if no other way to eliminate this harm can be found.
“Fr. James Altman has recently made public the request from Bishop William Patrick Callahan that he resign his office of pastor of Saint James the Less Parish in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, as well as his intent to decline the request. As a result, the Diocese of La Crosse will respond in accordance to the canonical process as needed for the removal of a priest from his office as pastor.
“During the past year, concerns have been expressed related to the ministry of Fr. James Altman, a priest in the Diocese of La Crosse. Bishop Callahan of the Diocese of La Crosse, and canonical representatives have worked to fraternally and privately address those concerns. The process has been pastoral and administrative with a desire toward a just resolution among all parties.
“The ministry of pastor was instituted in the Church not for the benefit of the one to whom it is entrusted, but for the pastoral and sacramental care of those for whom it is conferred. The salvation of souls takes precedence over the stability of the pastor in office when these two values come into direct conflict. Although attempts were made to allow Fr. Altman the opportunity to respond to fraternal correction, a resolution of this situation has been unsuccessful.
“It is important to note that this is not a penal remedy but a pastoral remedy. Bishop Callahan asks for your prayers for Fr. Altman, for the congregation of St. James, and the faithful of the Diocese of La Crosse and beyond. While any change made to the ministry of a pastor is difficult, it is done with the hope that God’s work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the Body of Christ for a positive outcome.
“The Diocese of La Crosse asks for the consideration of respect, safety and prayers at this time for all involved.”
While I’m apologizing, I also wanted to credit the folks who dug up and started circulating some of the quotes and videos I referenced, which I should have done sooner. Mike Lewis of Where Peter Is has once more done yeoman’s work, and I believe he is the one who first publicized Fr. Altman’s Pentecost sermon. @VagrantCatholic on Twitter transcribed and shared an excerpt from the discussion in which he blames Warsaw Jews for the holocaust; and Melinda Ribnek found and shared the video clip wherein he shares his views on the intellect of women.