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Statement of the Austrian Pastors’ Intitiative on the Excommunication of Martha and Gert Heizer

We, the Austrian Pastors’ Initiative, are deeply concerned about the actions the Church’s leadership has taken against Martha and Gert Heizer. The Excommunication was levied against two Church members who have worked for the reform of our Church with great passion, commitment, and energy. This decision is a fatal signal for all who are hoping, together with Pope Francis, for a kind Church that is close to the people. What kind of signal is being sent by a Church that punishes the perpetrators of sexual abuse among its ranks less severely than Church members who, by the way they practice their faith, express their great sufferings at the fringes of the Church’s existing set of rules?

The opinions may differ about the step that Martha and Gert Heizer have taken in celebrating the Eucharist without a priest. It may be seen as a prophetic step that points the way to an overall reform of the Church or it may not be seen that way. The Pastors’ Initiative sees Eucharist and priestly office as belonging together – as long as the Church is able to provide priests to its communities, who share peoples’ lives and share their journey of faith. But with present developments in the Church fewer and fewer communities have the option of a Eucharistic celebration on Sundays with an ordained priest being present. Martha and Gert Heizer are touching a sore spot: the Eucharist, the mass, the central celebration of our faith and of life as a community, is becoming increasingly rare due to the shortage of priests. For this reason the church reform movements have advocated for a long time that the priesthood should be open to married men and women and that the with the participation of the citizens of the Church new forms of leading the communities should be developed.

The “Ex-Communication” of Martha and Gert Heizer does indeed signal the end of communication in the sense of an open and fair dispute. This way of proceeding is not only completely out of proportion, but it shows the inability of the leadership of our Church to settle differences of opinion and conflicts in accordance with the gospel in a kind and loving way. This is a failure that nobody can be proud of.

We appeal to all persons in leadership positions to reverse the Excommunication and to take up instead an honest and fair dialogue with the church reform movements about the future of the Church.

The Pastors’s Initiative
signed by Helmut Schüller, President

Vienna, May 26, 2014

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  1. A fine statement in all respects by Father Schuller…..Who’s wrong, who’s right, is not the issue, yet, that is probably the dynamic where everything will be snarled. Adult faith ought to mean that the people and the institution come together in sincere dialogue, a sincere dialogue that truly seeks to “discern and test the spirits”. Would that Pope Francis campaigned for peace and reconciliation within his own House! There is no telling absolutely whether Martha and Gert are persecuted prophets, but, the entire situation is prophetic, in that, there is far more than meets the eye to be recognized and developed. You just never, ever will dictate to the spirit of God, as she blows where she wills….He is the Vine, We the Branches…and do each of us have a say as Church?…yes…as Christ said, and not just to his apostles….I call you my friends, because you know my Father’s business…

  2. Malcolm R says:

    “At a briefing in the Vatican on Tuesday,28th May 2014, Father Lombardi discussed some of the highlights of Pope Francis’ interview with journalists on the papal plane returning from the Holy Land. During his remarks the Pope had said a member of the clergy who sexually abuses children is comparable to somebody carrying out a satanic mass which is a sacrilege. Father Lombardi explained that for a believer, equating the crime of sexually abusing a child with the sacrilege of celebrating a satanic mass, is arguably the strongest possible condemnation.”
    How very strange it is then, that a Catholic couple who take the words of Christ literally, “Do this in memory of me”: are excommunicated from the Church, while those who commit the heinous crime of child sexual abuse receive a “condemnation”, but are allowed to remain within the Church!

  3. Fr. Kieren says:

    Hi Darlene,
    Like you I agree that we do need some peace and reconciliation in our own house. Again like you I don’t want to focus on who is right or wrong, that will only lead to polarisation. However, I do worry about some of the press coverage regarding this incident, as I understand it, the Church has not excommunicated the couple, rather the Church has publicly confirmed that the couple have excommunicated themselves, the Church in this case isn’t persecuting them, but is stating a reality.
    Regardless of our personal views, and mine will probably be a little bit different from your, we should all be saddened that this has occurred, but hopefully it may actually lead to further dialogue.

  4. Hello Father Kieran..
    My understanding is that Martha and Gert Heizer were looking at an excommunication order, if they did not mend their ways…and they chose to depart…This is still tantamount to excommunication by the Vatican…I wrote about it in my blog for V2catholic last week and I am writing about it again…this week…focussing on the struggle for the laity to find an equal footing in the Church.

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    There is quite a lot of confusion about excommunication latae sententiae — e.g. of a person who has an abortion or of a celibate priest who attempts to marry or of people who commit crimes against the sacraments. Some Modernist theologians who were excommunicated in a broad way, or perhaps under their pseudonyms, argued that the excommunication had to be nominatim (by name) for it to have any force.
    I thought that the Austrian couple were excommunicated nominatim. Now it is beginning to look as if they excommunicated themselves for excommunicable offenses. Or is it that they were formally threatened with excommunication and then decided to preempt the decision (unlike Fr Bourgeois).

  6. Fr. Kieren says:

    Hi Darlene,
    Thanks for your reply. I think you highlight my problem. From what I have read the couple were aware that their action would lead to automatic (self) excommunication, although they may have felt that the Church wouldn’t have publicly confirmed their status. I don’t think it is fair to suggest that this is a case of excommunication by the Vatican, when (I could be wrong, the Catholic media are providing different interpretations) it is actually the free and deliberate action of the couple that has led to their excommunication.

  7. Thank you Father Kieran…I remain in solidarity with the interpretation of events, as presented by Father Schuller above…..”we are deeply concerned about the actions the Church leadership has taken against Martha and Gert Heizer”.

  8. Fr. Kieren says:

    Hi Joe,
    According to the Tablet the Heizers first made public the ‘house Mass’ in 2011, when they allowed it to be filmed by national TV. It reports that the local bishop attempted to reconcile the situation in order to avoid excommunication.

  9. Reyanna Rice says:

    The link to the Tablet article is useless unless you are a subscriber as it is behind a firewall.

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