Fr. James Altman can no longer preach, assist at marriages, or baptize without permission, and he cannot celebrate the Eucharist with anyone else present until further notice from his bishop, according to an excerpt of a decree shared by Rocco Palmo on Twitter today.
The celebrity priest of LaCrosse, who gained notoriety for the increasingly strident far right views he shared in his sermons and online, was removed as pastor in May. He publicly rejected his bishop’s call to resign, and has now had his celebret removed for an indeterminate time, meaning many of his priestly faculties have been removed by his bishop until further notice.
The decree says that Bishop Callahan is taking this action as part of his duty to “protect the diocese against scandal and any civil lawsuits that could have dramatic financial consequences for the diocese.”
A cleric’s privileges may be restricted by an ordinary if there has been a delict (canonical crime) committed and proved, or alleged; or if the cleric in question is involved in a situation that, if he remains in a particular ministry, threatens the common good of the diocese.
The decree against Altman is the latter sort. Such a decree is issued when it will harm the diocese if the priest continues to act as a priest in public. The priest is not accused of having committed a crime, but his involvement in a particular situation is a threat to the integrity of the diocese, and the bishop judges that he is forced to constrain the priest’s faculties until something changes.
While the excerpt that has been shared on social media does not specify how Altman’s presence in the diocese threatens to harm its integrity, it does put the onus on him to remedy the harm. It says that if he does not act himself to remedy the situation, it harms the diocese. It says that the restrictions will be imposed “until the cause has ceased to exist” and that “[i]t is primarily the responsibility of Father James Altman to make sure that this cause ceases to exist.”
The decree bars Altman from leaving the diocese, which his bishop is entitled to do by virtue of the obedience Altman owes to him. It also requires him to go on a thirty day spiritual retreat “to give him the possibility to spiritually heal and recharge and to address the issues that caused the issuance of this decree.” It warns Altman that violations of the decree may result in further restrictions or the imposition of ecclesiastical sanctions.
It is rare for such decrees to be made public, but Altman has not shied away from making public his inflammatory views or his defiance against his superiors. A Twitter account that claims to share messages from Altman today said, “I will not be silenced by any arbitrary decree, nor will I be cowed by any action against my priestly faculties.”
Altman has not yet exhausted his chance to appeal the decree, and may now plead his case before the Signatura, the final canonical court of appeals for issues other than marriage nullity. The Father Altman account today has Alman characterizing himself as “a voice of Truth” whom the “corrupt” hierarchy “boldly continues to cancel.”
When Altman was removed as pastor, a group calling itself Caritas in Veritate launched a fundraiser for his legal defense, claiming he was the subject of “diabolical persecution.” As of July 8, over $359K has been raised. The fundraiser page said that Altman would donate any excess funds to the handicap ramp fund at St. James the Lesser, but only if he were allowed to remain pastor there.
Image: Screenshot from video of Fr. James Altman “You Cannot Be Catholic and Democrat. Period.”