Writing for the National Catholic Reporter, Brian Roewe reported this week that Pope Francis has excommunicated an Australian priest from the Church for his liberal values and activism. Fr. Greg Reynolds publicly supports LGBT rights, marriage equality and women’s ordination, three big no-nos in Catholic tradition. (We reported on Reynolds’ dismissal from the church the other day, but at the time, Pope Francis’ role wasn’t exactly clear.)
Here’s the Vatican’s “explanation” behind its decision, according to NCR:
“Accuses Reynolds of heresy (Canon 751) and determined he incurred latae sententiae excommunication for throwing away the consecrated host or retaining it “for a sacrilegious purpose” (Canon 1367). It also referenced Canon 1369 (speaking publicly against church teaching) in its review of the case. Pope Francis, Supreme Pontiff having heard the presentation of this Congregation concerning the grave reason for action … of [Fr. Greg Reynolds] of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, all the preceding actions to be taken having been followed, with a final and unappealable decision and subject to no recourse, has decreed dismissal from the clerical state is to be imposed on said priest for the good of the Church.”
Reynolds, however, doesn’t see such “grave reason for action” in his liberal practices as a priest. In fact, he says the Church’s statement actually gives little reason for its decision:
Father Reynolds told Australia’s The Age he had expected to be laicised (defrocked), but not excommunicated.
“In times past excommunication was a huge thing, but today the hierarchy have lost such trust and respect,” he said. “I’ve come to this position because I’ve followed my conscience on women’s ordination and gay marriage. The Vatican never contacted me, and it gives no explanation.”
As The Atlantic points out, Reynolds isn’t exactly a first-time offender, and his “crimes” include more than simple statements of support for women and LGBT people. Does that mean he deserved to be excommunicated? Certainly not. Ironically, his list of accomplishments actually makes him sound like a priest I’d like to get to know:
The priest’s advocacy goes a beyond a statement of support for female ordination. Reynolds is the founder of Inclusive Catholics, which advocates for women’s ordination and for a reform of the church’s teaching on homosexuality. He resigned from his parish ministry to lead the group (but not from the priesthood), providing a further reason for the church to seek him out for censure.
While excommunication might seem a punishment reserved only for truly heinous acts within the Church — pedophilia, for example — it’s becoming more common for members of the clergy to be kicked out for their progressive-ish beliefs. A Maryknoll priest named Roy Bourgeois was “dispensed” last year for advocating for women’s ordination, and just this past July a Brazilian priest named Roberto Francisco Daniel was booted for supporting same-sex marriage, open marriages and divorce.
It’s becoming more and more apparent that Francis is merely following in Pope Benedict XVI‘s footsteps. In 2008, that Pope decreed that ordination of a female priest was grounds for immediate excommunication, perpetuating women’s exclusion from much of the Church. While Francis has been lauded recently (present company somewhat included, I admit) for expressing a bit more tolerance for women and LGBT people in the Church, he doesn’t seem to be practicing what he preaches. All that talk is nice, and it’s worth acknowledging, but actions like this one prove that this Pope certainly isn’t as open-minded as we want him to be. He’s still bounded by his Catholicism.
The conditions of his excommunication mandate that Reynolds may no longer hold any position in the church hierarchy or participate in Mass. He can, however, remain Catholic — but at this point, I’m having a hard time seeing why he would want to.