Fr. James Altman’s Mistake
Here’s my take on the video of Fr. James Altman. It is the morning of September 11, 2020, and I just watched his video is titled: You cannot be Catholic & a Democrat, for the first time. Period. You should watch the short video before you read what I have to say, so you can start off with your own personal perception. You can find the short video here: https://youtu.be/3-7eoTN2vNM
He’s catching a lot of heat for this video and at the time I write this, over ½ a million people have watched it. His Bishop appears to have watched it as well, and has decided that Fr. Altman needs to be disciplined for what he has said.
I’ll admit that Fr. Altman went too far. He criticized the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, naming names of some priests (one specifically), and an archbishop who really put his foot in his mouth a few months ago. That is simply too far in this day and age when we are supposed to recognize clericalism as evil, and the cause of much sin, yet continue to observe clericalism so as not to sadden the hierarchy. It’s a fine line, I admit, but it is necessary to protect the good name of the Church, well, the good names of some members of the Church. This partial condemnation of clericalism is a very tricky thing as you can imagine.
Fr. Altman’s video also failed to go far enough. He said that “you cannot be a Catholic and a Democrat”. He failed to spend all the time it takes to explain the nuances of the Catholic teaching on grace and the indelible mark of baptism. He needed to spend much more time catechizing people on the fine points, so no one could throw up their hands and declare him a heretic. Few would have suffered through the religion lecture that would have taken, and it would have cut down on the views of the video significantly. In other words, it would have kept form getting his message out to over 500,000 people so far. He also failed to say a little more about the title of the video. As it is, it left the door open for chastisement from those who have remained sinless all this time.
Therefore, I’ll try to do what Fr. Altman didn’t do. I’ll explain, very briefly and therefore insufficiently, how his statement could have been improved. He could have said that “no faithful Catholic can support the Democratic party and their demonic platform”. Even that would fall under scrutiny and criticism though, because Fr. Altman was not “pastoral” or “gentle” enough in his video. He also called out some of the royalty in the U.S. Catholic Church, namely Fr. James Martin, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, and a very talented and engaging bishop (who I actually appreciate most of the time) who he did not specifically name.
How do I know that clarifying his statement would not have helped him? Because he did clarify his statement a few seconds later in his video (maybe you missed that when you watched it). However, his clarification didn’t make a bit of difference. After he said that one cannot be Catholic and a Democrat, he said, “repent of your support of that party and its platform”. There it is! There is the truth. Technicalities of indelible marks aside, this is the irrefutable truth. If you support the Democratic party and its platform, you are specifically supporting the following values of the Democratic party:
• That every woman should be able to access abortion.
• Federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
• The repeal the Hyde Amendment.
• The protection and codification of Roe v. Wade (which would make abortion a protected right in statutory law or possibly even the constitution).
• The inclusion of contraceptives as covered prescriptions under socialized healthcare.
• A mandate that health insurance policies cover gender confirmation surgery, and hormone therapy (possibly even for children?).
If you are a Catholic and support the Democratic party or vote for candidates who are Democrat and who say they will further the values set forth in the party platform (Joe Biden has vowed these things), then you might be one of these unfaithful Catholics of which I speak. I speak of “faithful” and “unfaithful” more in a bit.
It really comes down to what I mean when he and I say “support”. Support can be vocal support for these things. Maybe you talk to others or post things on social media, which show your personal support for one of more of these things. Maybe it is your lack of being vocal about your opposition to these things. In many cases, silence is consent. If you are Catholic, especially if you are a Catholic and you are a member of the Democratic party, you (and I) have an obligation to offer truth to people on serious matters such as these. Possibly your support is financial. If you are a Catholic and you donate to causes listed above through your donations to the Democratic party, particular “pro-choice” candidates such as Joe Biden, or directly to powerful organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign, or the Southern Poverty Law Center, then you are supporting the Democratic party and its platform. If you do these things knowing that they are in conflict with Church teaching, your sin is dangerously significant, possibly even mortal. If you do these things out of ignorance, but you have enough intelligence so that you could know the truth, you might be on a little safer ground. If you are not intelligent enough to know that your actions, words, or lack of words, are in contradiction to the teachings of the Catholic Church, then this is the problem of the priests, bishops, and lay catechists who should have devoted much more effort and prayer to their (our) task of helping you come to the truth.
That last category is where Fr. Altman seems to have hit a sore spot. Catholics are free to do whatever they want. If a Catholic decides to knowingly sin, God gets the final call on that one. However, if someone falls into sinful behavior (such as the support of abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, etc.) because Archbishop Gregory, Fr. James Martin, Fr. Dan Horan, or groups like Out at St. Paul, Catholics for Choice, or Fortunate Families, or some other flaky clergyman, or as Fr. Altman more aggressively phrases it, “gutless coward”, has assured them that they are just fine, then woe to that clergyman and woe to any other clergyman or lay Catholic who does not speak up and try to shine a light on the dark evil promoted by such flaky clergymen.
Just this last weekend, we had a reading on this specific truth. It was the first reading on Sunday, from Ezekiel 33. If we do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but God will hold us responsible for his death. There are more verses like this in the Bible, but one is enough for me, and it seems to have been enough for Fr. Altman to risk white martyrdom as well.
But Fr. Altman is not the only one who made a mistake here. Unfortunately, the other man will not be disciplined or even criticized by 99% of the hierarchy, because the other man happens to be Fr. Altman’s bishop. Yes, clericalism is still alive and strong in the Catholic Church, even after Clericalism apparently, somehow, in some unknown way, caused a number of priests (who somehow are not homosexuals) to sexually groom, molest, and/or rape, other males. I’m still scratching my head on that one. I am pretty sure that the definition of homosexuality is same-sex sex, but people are not allowed to think that anymore. But back to Fr. Altman’s bishop.
For some reason, prior to actually dealing with the employment matter with Fr. Altman, his bishop published a statement in which he informed the world that he had chastised Fr. Altman and if Fr. Altman failed to meet his deadline for recanting a statement (which Fr. Altman clarified a few seconds later in his video), then he would be punished. The statement contained one very peculiar sentence: “I have begun this process, not in the bright light of the public arena, but as the Gospel dictates, in private.” Here’s a little nugget of truth: Publishing a statement is beginning the process in the “bright light of the public arena”. And that public arena is quite full of people who are very devoted to destroying the Christian faith, especially the priesthood. Thanks for throwing one of your courageous priests under the bus, Bishop. That is going to do wonders for vocations in your diocese.
Most business executives, managers, lawyers, and people with basic common sense, would look at the Bishop’s statement and see that he has not handled this matter properly. When was the last time you have read a statement from a large corporation in which the CEO explains a pending disciplinary problem with an employee in middle level management? Just think of the defamation lawsuit that employee would have. Priests in other dioceses have actually decided to defend themselves and file lawsuits against their dioceses, which up until now, has been unprecedented. Courageous Catholics such as Nick Sandman have also shown that something can be done when their good name is slandered and defamed in the name of the liberal progressive agenda.
And who is this Bishop attempting to appease here? Is he supporting the faithful Catholics who agree that the Democratic party and its platform are significantly immoral? Or is he trying to appease progressive Catholics and liberal progressives who are angry that a Catholic priest has courageously stepped in where few have had the courage to tread and have called out the evil of progressive liberals and the cowardice of many bishops and members of the Church hierarchy? The former, my friend. Here is another nugget of truth: Progressive liberals and progressive Catholics are not the future of the Church, though they will be the end of your parish or diocese if you keep trying to keep them content. I remember when Bishop John Stowe threw Nick Sandman under the bus a few years ago. Hopefully Bishop Stowe has publicly apologized to Mr. Sandman. I remember when Bishop Stowe said that the diocese was investigating the incident in order to determine what the diocese should do after Mr. Sandman’s lawyers informed the bishop that they were considering a lawsuit against him and the diocese for their ignorant criticism of Mr. Sandman and the Covington High pro-life students. I don’t recall ever seeing any report that the investigation has been concluded though. Interesting. Well, anyway…
I expected Fr. Altman’s video to come across angrier and more condemning than it did. His Bishop said that Fr. Altman has inflicted a wound on the Body of Christ. I don’t see a wound from this video. I see a lot of truth, a brief failure to be precise and lack of clarification within it, but at the end of the day, the Church would be much healthier, stronger, and more attractive, if more bishops and priests had the courage to speak truth.
Don’t get me wrong. If I were in Fr. James Martin’s loafers, I’d be seriously angry and hurt. I would be terribly offended that he pictured me with a wolf next to me. I would contact numerous friends in high places and suggest that Fr. Altman has overstepped his boundaries. And if I were in Archibishop Gregory’s shoes, I’d make a short call to Fr. Altman’s Bishop and offer to lend him any support he needed in determining how to handle a problematic priest. That is all human nature. The truth hurts when you are the one living a lie.
If I were Fr. Altman, I would take this opportunity to clarify my statements further. I would talk about the indelible mark of baptism, how being baptized Catholic means you are Catholic for life, how there is a difference between being baptized Catholic and actually being a faithful Catholic, how “support” means actions and words which further the values of the Democratic party platform, which goals and values of the platform are particularly contrary to Catholic teaching, etc…
Maybe he has tried that, but has not been allowed to do so. Wouldn’t that be awful? Wouldn’t it be unjust if he was required to simply recant the whole thing without the right to keep much of the message intact and only clarify some of the nuances which have left him open to criticism and discipline?
There is a lot at stake in this election, and if you support a Democrat who has said they will further abortion rights, funding for abortion, or the codification of abortion (all of which are promises made by Joe Biden) then you are not being faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. If you also happen to be a Catholic, then that does not make you a faithful Catholic.
What about those Catholics who simply do not comprehend the evil of abortion or of the platform of the Democratic Party? Invincible ignorance is probably an out for them but those who are not capable of understanding or who have been misled by no fault of their own, are likely few and far between. They would also be unlikely to follow what Fr. Alman has said. Yet the discussion of all this was prompted not by careful and fearful bishops and priest who prefer to leave such matters for others, it was started by a courageous priest who likely knew he would suffer for it. This opens to door to educate a lot of people who are now thinking more deeply about this matter and the upcoming election. Still, some will choose to condemn Fr. Altman and other faithful Catholics. But these people would be wise to read John 9:41 and its context and remember that intentional ignorance is not a defense.