“I tell my clients, I can only defend you this far. All I can say is, he must have a good canon lawyer.”
And his activity has raised some interesting questions about canon law.
Details, from Brian Fraga at NCR:
Fr. James Altman, the firebrand reactionary priest from La Crosse, Wisconsin, has traveled the country, making speeches and giving interviews agitating against church leaders since his own bishop removed him from his parish and restricted his ministry in early July.
In the last seven weeks, Altman has spoken at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, attended the Napa Institute’s annual high-end summer conference, been a featured speaker at a Michigan event organized by the strident far-right outlet Church Militant and donated $100,000 to a new organization called The Coalition for Canceled Priests.
In presenting that check to the Coalition for Canceled Priests, Altman referred to bishops who discipline their priests as “these little tyrants that are in mitres.” Online and in person, he has described himself as someone who has been “canceled” or persecuted for speaking hard truths.
“The Left absolutely hates me,” Altman told a YouTube audience of Catholic young adults in early August.
Altman has struck a defiant tone and challenged the limits of the decree that Bishop William Callahan of La Crosse issued on July 8 that not only removed Altman from his position as pastor of St. James the Less Catholic Church in La Crosse, but also prohibits him from preaching or celebrating Mass in public.
“It’s almost like he’s playing chicken with the bishop on some level, and taking a very literal interpretation of the decree, but that’s very shortsighted,” said Robert Flummerfelt, a Las Vegas-based canon lawyer.
The decree also instructs Altman to reside in the Diocese of La Crosse, to undergo a 30-day retreat “to spiritually heal and recharge and address the issues that caused the issuance of this decree” and to meet at least once a month with the diocesan vicar for clergy.
Canon lawyers who spoke with NCR said Altman’s actions in recent weeks are not only strengthening the bishop’s hand in the event that the controversial priest appeals his removal as pastor, they said his behavior could even help the bishop build a case for stricter restrictions on his ministry and future disciplinary measures under the church’s 1983 Code of Canon Law.
“If Fr. Altman had called me, I certainly would have asked him to tone it down,” said Kelly O’Donnell, a canon lawyer who represents church entities, as well as individual clergy, religious and laity in juridical matters. O’Donnell told NCR that most people “do what their canonists request of them.”
“I tell my clients, I can only defend you this far,” she said. “All I can say is, he must have a good canon lawyer.”
Also worth noting: this interview with Gloria TV in which, among other things, he talks about the new house that he shares with his parents and notes, “I don’t care what bishop does to me.”