UPDATE: Diocese issues statement on controversial La Crosse priest asked to resign

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — A La Crosse priest who has drawn both harsh criticism and fervent support said this week that he has been asked to resign his post.

Father James Altman of La Crosse said Sunday that Bishop William Callahan of the Diocese of La Crosse has asked for his resignation.

Altman made the announcement during his homily at St. James the Less Catholic Church, saying, “For the record, dear family, Bishop Callahan has asked me to resign as pastor as of this past Friday — two days ago — because I am ‘divisive’ and ‘ineffective.'”

Altman has been at the center of several controversies in the area when he said that people could not be both Catholics and Democrats, compared the political left to Nazis, and encouraged people not to receive the COVID-19 vaccines, deeming COVID protocols to be “godless.”

Altman went on Sunday to say his canon lawyer asked for clarification on what made him divisive and said he was contesting the bishop’s request.

A legal fund set up in his name has raised nearly $75,000.

The La Crosse Diocese issued the following comment Monday afternoon:

“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.”