How Catholic leaders helped give rise to violence at the U.S. Capitol

By James Martin SJ, 14 January 2021
james martin, pope francis
A file image of Fr James Martin meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican. Image: Vatican Media/Fr James Martin/Twitter.


At the end of last August, the Rev. James Altman, the pastor of St. James the Less Parish in La Crosse, Wis., uploaded a video to YouTube that has been viewed over 1.2 million times. The video’s title voiced what an increasing number of Catholic bishops and priests were saying in the run-up to the presidential election: “You Cannot be a Catholic and a Democrat.”

“Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches,” said Father Altman, as music from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 swelled in the background. “So just quit pretending that you’re Catholic and vote Democrat. Repent of your support of that party and its platform or face the fires of hell.”

(Full disclosure: Father Altman referred to me as a “hyper-confusion spreading heretic” in the same video.)

Incorrect moral reasoning

There are traditional restrictions on Catholic clergy endorsing political candidates. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document on voting, “Faithful Citizenship,” states that the church should refrain from endorsing parties or candidates. As Pope Francis has said, the church is called “to form consciences, not to replace them.” More bluntly, a Vatican directive from 1994 says that a priest “ought to refrain from actively engaging himself in politics.”

The response of the local bishop to Father Altman’s video, however, was mixed. Bishop William Patrick Callahan released a written statement saying that while the tone was so “angry and judgmental” that it caused scandal, he understood “the undeniable truth that motivates [Father Altman’s] message.” He added that penalties might be applied if Father Altman did not respond to the bishop’s “fraternal correction.”

To continue reading this article please go to America Magazine.

The Rev. James Martin, S.J., is a Jesuit priest, author and editor at large at America.

With thanks to James Martin SJ and America.

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