LA CROSSE — In response to “disturbing reports” about COVID-19 misinformation from the La Crosse Tribune and the Associated Press, the grassroots Christian organization Faithful America on Tuesday launched a new petition calling on La Crosse Catholic Bishop William Callahan to permanently remove Father James Altman from all parish ministry.
The petition is expected to gather at least 10,000 signatures. A previous Faithful America petition surpassed 25,0000 signatures asking Bishop Callahan to rebuke Altman for a 2020 sermon titled, “You cannot be Catholic & a Democrat. Period.”
On Palm Sunday, Altman preached that COVID-19 health guidelines are “godless, Nazi-esque controls,” telling parishioners, “God damns every single one of those godless moves.” He also said Dr. Anthony Fauci’s support for masks “is damnable in the hottest fires of hell.”
On Easter, Altman packed in 300 to 500 parishioners, with at least 50 maskless people jammed in the first five pews — violating the Diocese of La Crosse’s mask mandate and capacity protocols. The church bulletin falsely claimed that COVID-19 vaccines don’t work, and repeated the debunked conspiracy theory that the shots change human genes.
The new Faithful America petition states in part, “As Christians who follow a healing savior, we are called to care for the sick and respect the God-given laws of nature. Right now, that means supporting vaccines, masks and social distancing, just like Pope Francis. Fr. Altman is endangering not only his own parishioners but every essential worker they meet, and should be removed from St. James the Less Catholic Church before he can risk even one more life.”
The Rev. Nathan Empsall, Faithful America’s executive director and an Episcopal priest, said in a statement:
“By spreading deadly misinformation and potentially exposing his parishioners and the people they meet to COVID-19, James Altman has shown that his so-called ministry is profoundly anti-life. Altman’s angry, arrogant, and uninformed words do not speak for Jesus Christ, and he should not be allowed to speak on behalf of any Christian church that ministers in Jesus’s name.
“Faithful America’s Christian members are sick of seeing our faith hijacked for deadly political crusades. Jesus was a healer, which is why we’re working to care for the sick and honor the God-given laws of nature by getting our vaccines, wearing our masks, and spreading the facts: The shots work.”
Bishop Callahan has implemented guidelines for churches in the Diocese of La Crosse, including Altman’s St. James the Less Parish, that require social distancing and masks. Pope Francis has criticized anti-mask protesters, received COVID-19 vaccines, and said that people have a moral obligation to receive coronavirus vaccines. It is unclear if Altman was including his bishop and the pope when he said that COVID-19 protocols are enforced by “godless vermin [who] fed us fear and instituted godless, Nazi-esque controls on all of us.”
Faithful America has repeatedly emailed articles from reputable health experts, such as Johns Hopkins and the CDC, to its 190,000 grassroots members urging them to help their communities get vaccinated.
Faith leaders across the country have been encouraging the use of COVID-19 vaccines, and the social-justice Christian community Sojourners has launched a prominent #Pastors4Vaccines campaign, which Faithful America supports.
Faithful America calls itself the largest online community of grassroots Christians putting faith into action for social justice.