Father James Altman, pastor at St. James the Less Catholic Church in La Crosse, Wis., is seen in his YouTube video. In the clip he attacks Catholics who are Democrats. (CNS photo/YouTube screen grab)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Father James Altman, pastor of St. James the Less Parish in La Crosse, Wisconsin, told Massgoers May 23 that Bishop William P. Callahan has asked him to resign because he is “divisive” and “ineffective.”

Father Altman — who told his congregants that he is being singled out for preaching “the truth” about “all the evil that confronts us” — has been making headlines and stirring controversy since last fall with provocative comments from the pulpit.

The priest has criticized Catholics who are Democrats, saying they must “repent” of their support for the party or “face the fires of hell.”

More recently he has called the U.S. bishops “ineffective” for “their failure to stand up against the godless government over the past 14 months,” referring to the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions that all houses of worship have been required to follow to stem the spread of the virus.

He also criticized the bishops for getting “on the injection bandwagon,” referring to the COVID-19 vaccines, and labeled the coronavirus an “alleged virus” and questioned how dangerous it really is.

In a statement issued late May 24, the Diocese of La Crosse noted Father Altman made public Bishop Callahan’s request he resign “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,” it said, adding, “It is important to note that this is not a penal remedy but a pastoral remedy.”

The diocese said that “during the past year, concerns have been expressed related to” Father Altman’s ministry, and Bishop Callahan 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 statement said.

Last September, Bishop Callahan said he had privately begun “applying Gospel principles” to correct Father Altman.

This followed the priest’s nearly 10-minute YouTube video posted Aug. 30, 2020, by Alpha News MN on its website. To date, over 1.26 million people have now viewed that video.

“Here’s a memo for clueless, baptized Catholics out there: You cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat. Period,” the priest says. “Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches,” especially its teaching that abortion is a “moral evil.”

The bishop said then that “canon law indicates that before penalties are imposed, we need to ensure that fraternal correction, rebuke or other means of pastoral solicitude will not be sufficient to repair the scandal.”

The priest has become “a social media phenomenon and is now a mainstream media story,” Bishop Callahan said. “The amount of calls and emails we are receiving at the diocesan offices show how divisive he is.”

In his May 23 homily — which also has been posted as a YouTube video that as of late afternoon May 25 had garnered 68,706 views — Father Altman said the Mass could be the last he says as pastor.

His canon lawyer, he said, “asked for the justification and a chance to review what was in my file that suggested I was so divisive and ineffective. … I’m no expert on canon law, but understand that while we are contesting bishop’s request — and we are — he could in theory appoint a parish administrator whilst I remain a pastor without duties until the appeal goes through Rome, which could take up to a year or more.”

“Why is anyone accusing me of being divisive as if that’s a bad thing? If we know that the truth divides exactly as Jesus says, why is any good Catholic complaining about me being divisive,” he asked. “No good Catholic is complaining. As a matter of fact good Catholics from around the world have been very supportive. Unfortunately in our cancel culture, if the left whines enough, they want to cancel me.”

Father Altman said that while it was “very unintended,” “my effort at preaching the truth somehow has gone viral over the past 11 months,” and brought in many donations from around the globe for the parish, enabling the parish to get a new roof for the school and church, among other things, and raising the parish’s portion of the diocesan appeal from “just $53,000 my first year here to over $100,000.”

“I am not the divisive one. I am not the ineffective one. I am not the one disrespecting my office,” he said. “They (the bishops) have done a great job being divisive (and) ineffective … without any help from me and that is why they despise me because that is the truth and the truth hurts.”

He thanked his “dear family” at St. James and beyond for their support. He also thanked Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, for his support.

The day Father Altman announced that he has been asked to resign, Bishop Strickland tweeted: “Fr. Altman is in trouble for speaking the truth. I originally supported him when he spoke bold truth during the election. I continue to support him for speaking the truth in Jesus Christ. He inspires many to keep the faith during these dark days. Let us pray for him.”

In its May 24 statement, the La Cross Diocese said: “Bishop Callahan asks for your prayers for Father 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.”