The Father James Altman Episode is a Case Study in Manipulation and Division

The Father James Altman Episode is a Case Study in Manipulation and Division September 14, 2020

“Father James Altman: You cannot be Catholic & a Democrat. Period.” Screenshot from YouTube video

If you didn’t know who Father James Altman was before last week, you probably know all about the outspoken culture warrior-priest from La Crosse, Wisconsin, by now.

Father Altman set the Catholic press and blogosphere ablaze with a slickly-produced ten-minute video, set to dramatic music from The Passion of the Christ soundtrack, that definitively declared “You cannot be Catholic & a Democrat. Period”

“Repent of your support of that party and its platform, or face the fires of hell,” says Father Altman, the pastor of St. James the Less Church in La Crosse.

Whoah there, Father. Slow your roll.

A few things need to be pointed out. First: Father Altman has about as much authority to damn a registered Democrat to hell as does my preschool-aged daughter, or her pet betta fish for that matter. That is to say, none.

Also, there is no body of Church teaching, dogma, magisterial document, papal edict or episcopal pastoral letter that prohibit Catholics from registering with either of the two major political parties in the United States. As a Catholic, you don’t incur an automatic excommunication, latae sententiae, if you check off “Democrat” on a voter registration form.

In fact, Father Altman’s confident assertions to the contrary, Catholics who are registered voters in the United States – whether they’re Republicans, Democrats or Independents – are not bound by Church doctrine to vote for President Donald Trump, the presumptive pro-life candidate in the 2020 presidential election.

My friend David Mills explains this very well in a couple of recent essays in Our Sunday Visitor, which are linked here and here. The Church’s actual guidance is that Catholics may vote for the “pro-choice” candidate IF they are not voting to support legal abortion directly, and IF they discern that there are proportionate reasons to vote against the supposed pro-life candidate. What those “proportionate reasons” could be is up to the individual Catholic’s well-formed conscience, which Pope Francis has pointed out is not meant to be “replaced” by the Church.

Well, you wouldn’t know that from what hyper-partisan clergy have been putting out recently on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Like-minded priests like Father Frank Pavone, who is somewhat of a surrogate for the Trump reelection campaign, are using their ecclesiastical status and authority to bind consciences of the lay faithful who follow them for direction in matters spiritual and temporal.

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