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Head of ‘We Are Church’ in Austria excommunicated by Pope Francis

Abigail Frymann, Christa Pongratz-Lippitt writing in The Tablet report on the excommunication of Martha Heizer, the leader of ‘We are Church’ in Austria..
In their article they state that;
According to the Austrian daily Tiroler Tageszeitung Martha Heizer and her husband Gert were excommunicated for regularly “simulating the Mass”, which the Church considers a delictum gravius, or “grave delict”. The couple are now barred from the sacraments.
The couple has reportedly been celebrating Mass privately at their house together with a small group of friends for several years in what they term “celebrations of the Eucharist without a priest”.
Bishop Manfred Scheuer of Innsbruck received the decree of excommunication last night. He took the excommunication decree to their house last night and read it out to them but they refused to accept it.
He described the move as a “self-excommunication”, which he said was “not a victory, but always a defeat for the Church”.
The couple issued a statement, saying they were “shocked” by Rome’s approach.
Martha Heizer was one of the initiators of the grass-roots protest signed by more than 500,000 Austrian Catholics after the Groer Affair of 1995 – which turned into the We Are Church movement and spread to other countries from here.
Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer resigned as Archbishop of Vienna in 1995 after protests from church leaders and lay Catholics appalled at allegations he had abused seminarians in the 1970s.”
It raises again the very vexed question of how to deal with genuine differences, dissent, and even open revolt to certain teachings which is done in good and informed conscience by very committed and Christian people. It raises again the question of the role of the CDF in the church and their use of power.
It raises questions for Pope Francis and his pastoral approach. Can one receive a letter from the CDF and realistically ignore it and carry on as it seems he suggested in his words to religious from Latin America on 6 June: “Don’t worry if you get a letter from the CDF. Explain what you have to explain to the CDF but carry on.”
The story is covered in many news outlets including
Tony Flannery has also commented in his own website,  http://www.tonyflannery.com

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  1. Father Flannery’s comments pretty much say it all for me….Interestingly, todays readings has Jesus warning the apostles that they (Pharisees and Sadducees) will be throwing them out of the synagogues…some things never change…maybe…Well, so much for the words from Vatican II….”The laity are just as central to the Church as the Institution” I don’t believe any of the parties in this fiasco has the whole truth, and I am not a supporter of any kind of lawlessness, no matter where it happens, but, when are going to have a Church leadership that listens and learns?
    If, indeed, Pope Francis had much to do this action of excommunication, then, he has lost all credibility in terms of telling us that as an entire Church, including the papacy, we must be willing to kick a fuss, that we need to be a listening church and on and on goes the rhetoric…God help us again, if it is all just rhetoric!

  2. Mary Vallely says:

    “It is past time that the Church stopped excommunicating people. This process had real effect some centuries ago, when it could be followed with the sort of punishments the Inquisition specialised in, or when people believed that the Church had the power to decide on a person’s eternal salvation. But today it only serves to make the Church lose more credibility, and even to look foolish.”
    I agree entirely with Tony Flannery here that excommunications and, in my opinion, canonisations which require ‘miracles’, are making us look more and more foolish in the eyes of the world. The lack of genuine dialogue and the reaching out to have a conversation with those who are crying out for this is another great shame in the Catholic Church. Today, however, we must concentrate our prayers on the safety and well-being of Pope Francis and for the efforts he and others are making in these difficult days ahead. Bail ó Dhia air agus ar an obair.

  3. Excommunication is a medicinal penalty. Unlike the secular world, whose excommunications are permanent (Fine Gael?), the Church takes back those who repent of their offense, and continues to support clerics who incur this penalty, which is quite something.

  4. I recall that human wisdom is foolishness to God! Once again, assuming that Pope Francis had much to do with this excommunication, I also remember that this is the Pope who claimed that “clericalism” is a problem. Indeed, clericalism is a problem and the Pope himself, has demonstrated that…Clericalism is such a problem, that Martha and Gert Heizer, thought, that to encounter Jesus Christ, they must do as the priest does. As I say, I do not believe either party has the whole truth, the Heizers or Rome, but, if the laity are just as central to the Church, as the institution, then there ought to be honest, open, serious, and generous discussion. Nothing is gained by slamming the door on the members of the Body of Christ. Would Christ have approved of this action? Absolutely not…and not only because it is excessively punitive, but, one of these times, when the Church excommunicates, they are going to do it, to one of the Lord’s beloved prophets…and then, we’ll see, who is excommunicated by divine authority.

  5. Darlene Starrs, how do you know for certain that Christ would not approve? How do you know for certain that these women are prophets? Christ did say that He who hears you hears me, referring to His Apostles, and surely it is up to the Church to test the spirits?

  6. Patrick Dacey says:

    The foundation of Christianity is ‘by faith’. It is time the hierarchy of the church displays ‘real’ faith in the laity by allowing people like Martha and Gert Heizer to conduct communion services in their homes. Much has changed since priests were plentiful and churches were within easy reach of the faithful to enable them to attend daily mass. It seems to me the hierarchy of our church lack vision and appear to be insecure in their ability to make meaningful changes.

  7. Margaret Lee says:

    As far as I can see Darlene Starrs does not say that Jesus would approve. She merely raises the question as to whether or not He might approve. The scripture that is quoted to endorse the Mass is “Do this in Memory of Me”. I presume that the Austrian couple were holding their Eucharistic (Thanksgiving) Meals in remembrance of Jesus. I believe that what matters is the spirit in which we come together for such celebrations. If we come together to give thanks, to acknowledge the spark of the divine that is within us, then, in my opinion, the celebration is as valid as half an hour gallop that we often experience in our local churches at weekends.

  8. Thank you Margaret…Perhaps my blog for last Monday on the website http://www.v2catholic.com would clarify my thoughts about what happened to Martha and Gert Heizer. There is nothing in my intimate, lived experience with Christ that would indicate that Christ would approve of the use of excommunication over the use of open, honest, and generous dialogue. What was Christ’s response to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they were going to stone the woman for adultery?

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