Prior to my conversion to the Catholic faith, I witnessed various forms of anti-Catholicism — ranging from casual to extreme — within the Protestant milieu in which I grew up. Comments such as “Catholics are going to Hell,” “The Pope is the Antichrist,” “Catholics are idolatrous pagans,” “The Catholic Church killed millions of innocent people,” were the normative expressions of views on the Catholic Church in that environment. Looking back at the sermons and lectures I heard and the literature I read condemning the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church, I have developed the understanding that the vast majority of things that those opposed to the Church say about the Catholic faith are simply based upon misunderstandings, misconceptions, lies, and exaggerations.

Sadly, in my four years of being a Catholic, I discovered a new variant of anti-Catholicism, one that has been promulgated by various extremists in the Church, primarily from those who self-identify as “conservative” and “traditional.” These extremists have caused tremendous divisions and infighting to the point where we see people say things that ought not to be said at all — in public or private — against the Catholic hierarchy. In our digital age, it has become very easy for anyone to share their views online and gain a massive following. This means that when so-called “Catholic influencers” start to say and do things that oppose the teachings of the Magisterium, they can lead their followers down a path of spiritual darkness, corruption, and destruction. We have just witnessed this once again in the case of Fr. James Altman.

In the last decade, we have seen the emergence of the anti-Francis movement’s contempt and vitriolic slander and defamation against the pope. As a result of the influencers, many Catholics have adopted extreme ideologies and erroneous theological positions — such as sedevacantism and “recognize and resist” — that oppose the Church’s official teachings on authority, ecclesiology, and the Magisterium. We have seen a not-insignificant number of people who clamoring for the removal of Pope Francis from his office by any means. Fr. Altman has not only publicly declared on multiple occasions that he believes Francis is not the valid pope, but more recently has called for his death. Altman made his case by invoking Sacred Scripture — according to his interpretation of it — to justify the murder of the man he considers an “anti-pope” in a recent 25-minute video entitled, “Fr. Altman on the Great Millstone: Throw Bergoglio into the Deep Blue Sea.” In it, he said:

“Dear family, today we are going to consider Jesus’ teaching on the great millstone as it applies to Jorge Bergoglio … and how the best thing we can do would be to tie the great millstone around Jorge Bergoglio’s neck and throw him into the great blue Mediterranean Sea.”

In the video, he also pushes back against those who have publicly rejected his positions:

“For those complainers out there: I am not the problem, you are. And you will be held accountable for your failure to love almighty God enough to get righteously angry when Bergoglio and his boys continue their assault in the godless and the damned Synod on Sin and Sodomy…

“The vast majority of people don’t know Sacred Scriptures, don’t know the faith to which they claim to belong, do not know right from wrong, all the more do they not have the first clue about Church history … in my informed opinion, if there has been any man in the history of the Catholic Church deserving of what Jesus called the ‘Great Millstone’ it is Jorge Bergoglio…”

“For all those people out there who complain, I call them whiners, who say I want Bergoglio to go to Hell, just actually read the Gospels repeatedly, and grasp the simple truth that what I said is exactly what Jesus taught. But if you don’t know your Sacred Scriptures you don’t know and understand what Jesus taught and you’re just complaining without foundation.”

The irony of Altman using the “millstone” passage from Our Lord is that Jesus used the image to highlight the severity of leading people into sin, which is exactly what Altman is doing. Leading people into schism against the Roman Pontiff and fostering extremism and radical ideas is no different than the Protestant reformers, who used similar rhetoric when they broke away from the Church. Think about how many people were led away from the Catholic faith by the teachings and preachings of those who wished to rebel against the papacy in the 16th century! Since the Second Vatican Council, many Catholics (and non-Catholics too, for that matter) have been led away from full communion with the Church by radical traditionalist leaders and schismatic groups and into open defiance of the Living Magisterium.

Many in the traditionalist movement have been ignoring, downplaying, making excuses for, and justifying the actions of Fr. Altman. Less bombastic traditionalist figures — people who claim they are not extreme and are faithful to the papacy and loyal to Church teaching — choose either to remain silent or to selectively endorse only the least inflammatory words and actions of the most outspoken renegade traditionalist clerics and media personalities who obstinately incite division. This is because the views of many traditionalists who present themselves as more academic and scholarly are often just as extreme as their more vitriolic counterparts. They simply justify their dissent and disobedience under the guise of “true obedience” to Catholic tradition as they understand it.

In addition to his rhetoric’s lack of Christian love and charity, Fr. Altman has also clearly violated a growing list of ecclesiastical laws. It is difficult to deny that he has violated Canon 1371 §1, “A person who does not obey the lawful command or prohibition of the Apostolic See or the Ordinary or Superior and, after being warned, persists in disobedience, is to be punished.” On September 8, Fr. Matthew Schneider posted on X that he had confirmed with Altman’s diocese that “Fr. James Altman was under a diocesan decree not to present himself publicly as a priest, such as wearing clerics in public or on YouTube videos.”

It is also hard to deny that Fr. Altman has violated Canon 1373 (“A person who publicly incites hatred or animosity against the Apostolic See or the Ordinary because of some act of ecclesiastical office or duty, or who provokes disobedience against them, is to be punished by interdict or other just penalties”) by his remarks against both his bishop and the pope. Additionally, with his denial of the legitimacy of Francis’s papacy and his frequent accusations that various other Catholics are not Catholic, there is a clear case to be made that he is in schism. (“Canon 751 … Schism is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”)

Additionally, although he has not acted upon it, his most recent video exhibits a clear desire to violate both clauses of Canon 1370 §1, “A person who uses physical force against the Roman Pontiff incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; if the offender is a cleric, another penalty, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, may be added according to the gravity of the crime.”

Arguably, with his ever-growing list of violations of canon law, he has already automatically incurred latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication. It is likely only a matter of time before the Church formally declares him excommunicated as well. He is walking on dangerous ground, both spiritually and legally. His rhetoric is filled with hatred and anger, which has blinded him and —if he doesn’t have a serious change of heart — will ultimately consume him and those who listen to him and take him seriously. Advocating for the unjust murder of another goes against the teachings of Our Lord in both the Old and New Testaments. Praying for the murder of those whom you consider your enemies violates the sixth commandment and what Jesus taught in the Gospels. We are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

The silver lining of Altman’s troubling video is that it will hopefully serve as a wake-up call for the more moderate members of the traditionalist movement who have been in denial of the extent to which their movement has been spinning off the rails. Those who chose to remain silent or complicit in the face of the overwhelming evidence of the dangers of radical traditionalism will inevitably suffer the consequences of their actions, which are embracing error as truth and schism as obedience.

Image: Fr. James Altman, YouTube Screenshot

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Clyde Guzman is a Catholic social media apologist on a varity of platforms. A former Seventh-day Adventist, he converted to Catholicism and was formally received into the Church on Easter 2019.

In the past, Clyde has been active in political and pro-life organizations, but stepped away from active involvement in both areas in 2021 to focus on his education and Catholic Spirituality.

Mr. Guzman is currently a university student studying Architecture, Civil Engineering, and Computer Science. He is an avid supporter of the “Fifth Marian Dogma” and is currently in the beginning stages of writing his first book, about his life in the Adventist Church and his conversion to Catholicism.

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