My Critique of Fr. James Altman

NOTE: Comments are now closed on this post. There’s just too much malice and too little regard for the teaching of Jesus coming from Altman’s supporters.

I happened upon the video in this manner. First, I saw a news story, that mentioned this tweet:

Bishop J. Strickland
@Bishopoftyler
As the Bishop of Tyler I endorse Fr Altman’s statement in this video. My shame is that it has taken me so long. Thank you Fr Altman for your COURAGE. If you love Jesus & His Church & this nation…pleases HEED THIS MESSAGE

And the video is here: Altman on YouTube. The title of the video is: “Fr. James Altman: You cannot be Catholic & a Democrat. Period.” Since this is not a teaching of the Catholic Church, not a teaching of any Roman Pontiff or Ecumenical Council, not a teaching of the Bishops Conference of the United States, it is clearly not a teaching of the Magisterium. This is Fr. Altman’s opinion. However, that does not excuse him. For it is not an opinion merely on politics, but also on the Faith. And the opinion is incorrectly presented as if it were incontrovertible truth of the Faith.

During the Divine Ministry of Jesus Christ, from His baptism in the Jordan to his Ascension into Heaven, Jesus criticized the politicized Jewish Faith of His day. The Jewish leaders had become divided into the liberal Sadducees and the conservative Pharisees. And our Lord criticized them both, but most especially and most sharply, He criticized the conservatives Pharisees. {Matthew 5:20} “For I say to you, that unless your justice has surpassed that of the scribes and the Pharisees you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

And yet Fr. Altman makes this same mistake of politicizing the Faith. He first of all tells Catholics that they cannot be a Democrat. Why not? He mentions abortion, but many Democrats, not just in Congress but across the nation in other political offices, are Prolife. Then he makes the baseless claim that “Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches.” Well, most of what the Church teaches is not mentioned at all in the platform of any party. So that can’t be true. And Democrats are generally in favor of helping the poor, orphans, widows, foreigners sojourning in a… I mean immigrants, health care for everyone, that minimum wage be enough to live on in human decency. That doesn’t sound like a platform that is against everything the Church teaches.

So Fr. Altman’s claims are false. He is conservative, and so he wants Catholics to vote conservative. But it’s not a question of following the teachings of the Church. A faithful Catholic can be Democrat or Republican. The three fonts of morality determine whether an act, such as voting, is good or evil, permissible or sinful. It is not intrinsically evil to vote Democrat, so it depends on intention and circumstances. That is Catholic teaching.

Then Fr. Altman takes his false claim, that you cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat, and he exaggerates it further, to the point of heresy. For he claims the following: “Repent of your support for that party and its platform or face the fires of Hell….” The Church does not teach that supporting the Democratic party and its platform is an actual mortal sin. And as I said, many Democrats are Prolife. Moreover, he does not base these claims solely or mainly on abortion, but on the entire party platform.

But there are other disturbing things about this talk by Fr. Altman. One is that he frames this false teaching — that you must reject the Democratic party and its platform or be punished forever in Hell — within Jesus’ teaching on knowing and loving God. He begins and ends with telling people to know, love, and serve God. that is of course the teaching of Jesus and of the Jewish Faith before Christianity. But the middle of the talk is sinful pride, false accusations, false claims about Church teaching, and false claims on matters of grave moral weight. Then he ends as he began, talking about knowing, loving, and serving God. But one certainly would not be loving or serving God by imitating Fr. Altman’s gravely immoral behavior in the middle of the talk:

* He speaks with extreme pride, as if he cannot possibly be wrong, and as if he has the role to judge and condemn others. He does so far as to threaten all Catholics who support the Democratic party and its platform with eternal punishment. That is for God to judge, not Fr. Altman.
* He rebels against the authority of the Magisterium, which God has given into the hands and the judgment of the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops. He calls them “the hierarchy”, and he speaks as if he has the role to oversee, judge, and condemn them.
* He speaks with hatred toward those who do not share his conservative views.
* He does not speak or act like the Lamb, but like a dragon. He is not imitating Christ.
* He lacks humility, faith in the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops, and obedience.

In addition, this tweet by Brian Fraga (@brianfraga) points out some additional problems with the video statement:

Statements in this Bishop Strickland-endorsed video include:
– Fr James Martin is a “heretic” who “prances”
– DACA is for “criminal illegal aliens”
– Climate change is a “hoax”
– BLM protesters are all Marxists
– +Gregory is called out 3X for criticizing @POTUS
#CatholicTwitter

Now here are some excerpts from the video:

Fr. Altman: “there are way too many people who don’t know the first thing about almighty God — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — so truth be told, they do not love Him. And so we can see in the many godless politicians out there, and the godless educational system, and the godlessness of so many sheeples, they most definitely are not serving Him, they are not fulfilling their purpose in life, to know, to love, and to serve God.”

Another disturbing thing about the video is that Fr. Altman’s talk suggests that people who do not accept almighty God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cannot possibly have the true theological virtue of love. And this would imply — if it were true, which it is not — that they cannot be saved unless they convert to Christianity (apparently, this must also be a conservative version of Christianity). Such a narrow view of salvation is the type of neo-Feeneyism which has crept into the Catholic far right since the reign of Pope Francis began.

“Well, here’s a memo to clueless baptized Catholics out there: you cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat, period. Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches….Repent of your support for that party and its platform or face the fires of Hell….”

Fr. Altman is speaking with arrogance and condescension; he is being judgmental and issues a sweeping condemnation merely for voting Democrat. The beginning and end of his talk are the sheep’s clothing. It seems like he is going to talk about knowing, loving, and serving God. But instead, most of the talk is sinful, arrogant, condemnatory, and full of false teachings. As the talk continues, he says this:

“I crunched the numbers and finally came up with a pretty close approximate total of how many Catholics voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Zero….There were a lot of pretenders, a lot imposters, a lot of people masquerading as Catholics, laity and clergy alike; there were zero faithful Catholics who voted for that godless politician who had the audacity to blaspheme and say “God bless Planned Parenthood” — the most racist organization on the face of this planet, founded to wipe out black babies.”

He condemns all Catholics who voted for Obama in two elections. Regardless of what their lives might be like, even if they are priests or Bishops, he condemns them as being not real Catholics or not faithful Catholics for their vote. This is contrary to Catholic teaching. You do not lose your identity as Catholic, even if you commit a mortal sin, and voting for a president is typically a matter of judging the circumstances. So a person might vote for either party in good conscience. But Altman disregards Catholic moral teaching, and substitutes this new extremism, where you become non-Catholic for one or two choices, when voting for president. Nothing in Catholic teaching supports this type of claim. It is not Catholic doctrine, nor a sound Catholic opinion. The idea is non-Catholic.

Fr. Altman is not imitating Christ when he utterly condemns Barack Obama for one statement that he made. He may have made that statement with a sincere but mistaken conscience. It does not make him godless. This type of extreme condemnation of another human person for a single act is not the way that Christ behaved. Consider the way that our Lord treated the Roman Centurion, who probably believed in the Roman gods and goddesses; the way He treated the woman of Canaan, who was neither a disciple of Christ nor a Jew; the example He gave of the good Samaritan, who had incorrect religious doctrines (as a Samaritan) but is the example Christ placed before every generation to imitate. The type of condemnation Fr. Altman proposes, for a single act of voting or a single public statement is contrary to the examples given in the Gospel from the Ministry of Christ.

Fr. Altman also references, in passing: “the climate change hoax”. Certain points are debatable, especially what will happen when in the future with Climate Change. But the science on this is not only so well-established that it can’t be entirely wrong, but also certainly not a “hoax”. The term “hoax” implies a deliberate deception. Science is continually revising its understanding, but usually with a progressions of small to large improvements, along with some corrected errors. Revisions of various degrees and even outright errors — speaking about science in general — are not hoaxes. A hoax is “something intended to deceive or defraud” [dictionary.com]

What Fr. Altman and many others on the far right are doing is much the same technique, applied to a different purpose, as the liberal media (at its worst) often does: exaggerating, distorting, and even repeating known falsehoods of others, in order to obtain notoriety, a larger audience, and favor with those who believe these errors. To the same intended end, many leaders on the far right are using harsh condemnatory language toward their philosophical or theological opponents, so as to gain a larger audience and so as to cause that audience to adhere to them more firmly.

Next, Fr. Altman attacks the Bishops. “Shame on the hierarchy who covers up truth through a conspiracy of fear. Listen, if there wasn’t truth spoken, nobody, but nobody would be listening to me for two seconds.” Read again the paragraph I wrote just before this one. It is well-known that if you tell people what they wish to hear, they will be attracted to that speaker. It is well-known that speaking falsehoods that are in favor in a particular group or subculture gains them as attentive listeners. So Fr. Altman’s claim that, if he were not speaking truth no one would be listening to him for even a brief time is contrary to a well-known truth about listeners and speakers.

Also, how does Fr. Altman explain that his liberal opponents, whom he thinks are not speaking truth, have obtained so many listeners? No one would listen to him, if he weren’t speaking truth? Does he think he is in Heaven, where that is true? His assertion is a ridiculous plainly-false claim.

“And if all that is accomplished by speaking up, is to let the proud and the arrogant in the hierarchy realize that the faithful are suspicious and they have good reason. And that they need to straighten up, and straighten out this mess that they created….”

Fr. Altman attacks the hierarchy because he knows that many conservative Catholics are angry at the Bishops. He is telling his audience what they wish to hear. He is playing on their biases and misguided emotions. He is using the worst traits of his audience, to gain their support.

Then Fr. Altman ends with this assertion: “our purpose in life is to know, love, and serve God.” His talk was not about knowing God, loving God, loving neighbor, or serving God. His talk itself is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Speaking In General

The faithful should learn to distinguish wolves from sheep. To do so, you must set aside your political biases and your preferences for certain theological points of view, political or social views, and disciplines. Be able to recognize a good person and a good teacher in someone who does not share your views. Then, look to see if the words of the person show a love for other human persons and a respect for those who are different in ideas, behavior, background, etc. Love of enemies is found only in those who either have the infused theological virtue of love, or who are cooperating with actual graces so well as to be not far from obtaining or returning to the state of grace in love, faith, and hope.

So many leaders on the right, so many of the papal critics, are angry at all who disagree with them, and they seem to think they have the right to treat their philosophical opponents with contempt and denigration. They also like to use exaggerated rhetoric, so as to play on the emotions of those whose support they seek. They make shocking, exaggerated, false, even malicious remarks, so as to obtain notoriety and to develop a group of listeners who will follow them closely.

We are about to enter a difficult time. Be very careful whom you accept as a shepherd or teacher.

Edited (9/11) to add: Catholicism has become politicized today, to the point where many Catholics will support Fr. Altman regardless of his sinful behavior and his open disobedience and contempt towards the Bishops. They support him because they view him as a leader of their religious party, just as a Pharisee would support another Pharisee over a Sadducee. It was a problem in Judaism during the time of Jesus’ ministry, and it’s a problem now. I can’t imagine that I would ever support someone who behaved so sinfully, regardless of their views on any issue.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

Note added 9/12: Please do not waste your time posting comments which show a lack of Christian charity. They will be deleted. I let one such comment be posted below, to show an example of the type of error. Catholicism is not a political party. Love of neighbor should be our guide above all else. You are not justified in treating anyone with contempt merely because they disagree or you have labeled them a liberal or they criticized a person of the same perceived “party” as you.

Note 9/13: My main criticism of Fr. James Altman’s words: the lack of Christian charity. And those who are defending him in the comments here show the same lack of charity. The lack of the theological infused virtue of charity. Are you Christians? So many malicious nasty remarks (most of which have not been put through the moderation process, so I’ve seen them and you haven’t). In this way, you implicitly condemn Fr. Altman. For when you attack his critics with malice, you behave like him, and you show the error of his ways in your behavior. But those who love Jesus, love others, including “enemies”. Who taught you to hate those with the “wrong” views? It wasn’t Jesus.

NOTE: Comments are now closed on this post. You had your chance.

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40 Responses to My Critique of Fr. James Altman

  1. Nancy Champion says:

    Clarity IS Charity!! God Bless Fr. Altman for his clarity on matters of Church teaching and the gospel. We need more brave priests like him and fewer who are afraid to speak for truth and cave to the “cancel culture”. There can never be a lack of Charity when the goal is to save souls.

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