Stating the Obvious About Father Altman
Father James Altman of the Diocese of La Crosse, WI, announced last Sunday that Bishop William Callahan asked him to resign.
You can read the gist of the story here. But there are a number of obvious factors at play which most influential Catholics — from reporters to columnists to Bishop Callahan himself — have missed.
So here I am to state the obvious about Fr. Altman.
Obvious Statement #1: Fr. Altman Picks Fights with Bullies
It’s obvious why Fr. Altman is in trouble. “He started it!” his enemies might whine. And they might have a point.
Altman is a guy who likes to stick his fingers in the eyes of people who feel they can act with impunity. Bullies.
He argues that the Democratic Party has so completely embraced the evil of abortion and rejected biblical sexuality that it is no longer possible to be both a Democrat and a Christian.
He criticizes the “anti-racism” that pits race against race rather than acknowledging all are equally created, as he often says, “in the Image and Likeness of Almighty God.”
He’s skeptical of the effectiveness and safety of the new COVID-19 vaccines, and rejects the shots produced through the use of research on aborted children.
He also denounces the choices of clerics who, in order to comply with secular COVID-19 mandates, locked their church doors and even refused to minister to the dying.
In other words, Altman primarily offends people who are flush with power and pride. People backed by the corporate media, the mayors of America’s major cities, and now the White House. Exactly the kind of people who have both the will and the power to “cancel” those who defy them.
As an aside, whether you like Altman or not, it’s obvious that he’s brave. And just as obvious that it’s cowardly and unseemly to take the news of his career possibly being ended as an occasion to publish whatever faults you can find in him.
Obvious Statement #2: The Attack on Altman isn’t About Altman
It’s also obvious that Altman is a target worth canceling. Why? Because he’s rapidly gaining a following, and his influence is a threat to leftist causes.
But those causes are, among other things, against Our Lord and His teachings.
That means the attack on Altman is not about Altman per se. Rather, in principle, it’s an exercise in putting down Christian resistance to Leftism.
Obvious Statement #3: Some Catholics Want to Stay on the Bullies’ Good Side
Now Catholics have two options in how to defend against this attack:
a) Resist it for the sake of the Lord whose counter-cultural teachings are the real target, or
b) Pretend that it’s only Altman who is under attack, and throw him under the bus. (He’s just a man, after all, and sacrificing him will be a small price to pay for a truce with a bully as powerful and merciless as the Left.)
Unfortunately, Bishop Callahan is choosing option b).
His reaction to the clamoring of Altman’s critics was to look for ways (some perhaps legitimate!) to find fault with Altman.
As if what’s under consideration is a contextless audit of one priest’s conduct and character, rather than leftists trying to stifle Christian witness against them.
Many conservative and Catholic media outlets are guilty of the same thing. Some reports even included helpful little bullet-point lists of reasons not to stand with Altman, in what looked like an obvious attempt to discredit any effort to do so.
Obvious Statement #4: What’s Happening to Altman is Why We’re Divided
The way Catholic bishops, commentators, and reporters are dealing with Altman demoralizes and scatters faithful Catholics. It tells each of us that when cynical Leftists open fire on us, our own allies with platforms (media) and positions (bishops) will look the other way. Or worse, pass them more ammo.
This kind of leadership is so feckless that you’ll never find it being employed by influential members of other Catholic subgroups (outside of ours: the one that ostensibly opposes leftist causes like abortion and the desecration of marriage and sexuality).
Imagine if, when I went after a pro-LGBT priest like Fr. James Martin, SJ, in a faithful Christian media outlet (as I did here), liberal Catholic media outlets responded as if I could have Martin’s head unless he could be proven innocent and irreproachable.
Imagine if they immediately published litanies of all the things Martin has said which are most likely to further outrage his opponents, alienate him from his friends, or embarrass his superiors.
Ultimately, this response would lead to their ruin. It would strip Martin and eventually all pro-LGBT advocates of support in the Church. Finally, they would cease to see the Catholic Church as their home, or as an Institution that is in any way useful to their moral causes.
To put a finer point on it: That’s exactly what Callahan and other conservative Catholics leaders are doing now — to faithful Catholics who serve pro-life and pro-family causes.
Obvious Statement #5: If Bishops Acted Like Altman, Catholics Would Defeat Anti-Christian Leftism
Altman says Bishop Callahan told him he was “divisive” and “ineffective.”
Altman countered that he’d in fact grown his parish by leaps and bounds. He galvanized faithful Catholics around the country with his online preaching. Despite the challenges of the last year, Altman’s parish even thrived financially, becoming an unmistakable asset to the diocese while other parishes languished.
In other words, Altman has united faithful Catholics, not divided them. And he’s been effective by any normal measure, not ineffective.
Which brings us to a final obvious statement. Perhaps the most obvious of all.
Fr. James Altman is living proof that Catholic leaders have it within their power to gather faithful Catholics, to fill the pews and to build powerhouse Catholic communities united against secular Leftism.
In fact, if bishops acted more like Altman does, Catholic moral causes such as the defense of the unborn might become almost irresistibly powerful political interests overnight. This would transform the moral landscape of American public life, and save countless unborn lives. Not to oversell it, but I believe it would also be a cooperation with the Holy Spirit and go a long way toward “renewing the face of the earth.”
I would ask Catholic leaders why that is not an option. But the answer is already … obvious. And perhaps not fit for print.
Summing up: A Note to Influential Catholics
I say these points are obvious. They’re obvious, I should say, to normal people.
By normal people I mean Catholics who don’t tend to have the disadvantage of an advanced degree. People who haven’t dulled their conviction into something that can survive the office politics and committee meetings of chancery offices or seminaries or journalism schools.
I doubt anything I wrote above would strike the ordinary Catholic pew-sitters in my community as especially insightful. But I felt the need to write it nonetheless, because, God knows why, these are factors which escape many of the wise and learned who’ve weighed in so far.
You Catholic commentators and bishops panic and comply when Leftists demand you help them cancel Altman.
But while you try desperately to keep Altman from embarrassing you, you miss the obvious: In the eyes of the Catholic flock, the embarrassment is you.
Stephen Herreid is a contributor to The Blaze. His work is archived at candidworldreport.com, and has been published at Crisis Magazine, Aleteia.org, CatholicVote.org, The Intercollegiate Review Online and other publications. Reach him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHerreid.