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La Crosse Priest Asked To Resign After Spreading Misinformation About COVID-19, Vaccine

Faith Group Says Anti-Vaccine Message Has 'Deadly' Impact On Local Congregation, Social Media Followers

The silhouette of a cross on a Catholic church
Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

A priest in La Crosse has been asked to resign after spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccine.

The Rev. James Altman announced to his congregation at St. James the Less on Sunday that he had been asked to resign by Bishop William Callahan, who heads the Diocese of La Crosse.

In a recording of his homily shared on YouTube, Altman said Callahan called him “divisive and ineffective.”

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“Unfortunately in our cancel culture, if the left whines like they do, like a spoiled brat, often enough, they succeed in canceling so many voices of truth,” Altman said in the recording.

Altman said he was contesting the bishop’s request, but that he could be removed from duty while the challenge was going through the appeal process.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of La Crosse and Altman’s church didn’t return requests for comment.

Altman has been criticized over the last year for a series of controversial statements, including calling Catholic Democrats “Godless” hypocrites before the 2020 U.S. presidential election. He has most recently come under fire for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus and calling the vaccine an “experimental injection.”

The Rev. Nathan Empsall heads Faithful America, a national Christian advocacy organization that launched an online campaign calling for Altman’s firing. Empsall said Altman’s words have “gone from simply hateful last year to downright deadly this year.” And he said his group is grateful to Callahan for working to remove Altman from his position.

“This is the kind of action that protects us all from misinformation, from the coronavirus, from hatred,” said Empsall, who is also an Episcopal priest. “It could not have been easy for Bishop Callahan to ask for Father Altman’s resignation. The bishop is already taking a lot of grief and criticism from the hard right online, some really nasty things being said about him.”

He said Altman isn’t the only faith leader who has used their position to oppose the COVID-19 vaccine, including a Catholic bishop in Texas who has condemned the vaccines and voiced support for Altman.

“That’s so harmful when the people we trust lead us astray the way Father Altman has been doing with his lies and misinformation about the vaccine. So hopefully removing that deadly, incorrect message will make it easier for people to learn the real facts,” Empsall said.