Martha Holzer, a senior leader in the dissident Catholic group We Are Church, is “shocked” that Pope Francis has taken the extraordinary step of excommunicating her and her husband Gert.
Pope Francis took this action after the pair “simulated the Mass”–that is, they regularly took part in “private Eucharistic celebrations” at her home with no priest present. The Church considers the simulation of the Mass a delictum gravius, or “grave delict”.
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We Are Church, which has members in more than 20 countries, is notorious for its disregard for the priesthood–insisting, as they do, that all participate in the “priesthood of all believers” and that both men and women should be ordained to the ministerial priesthood.
Here in the United States, We Are Church’s member organizations are a Who’s Who of dissident groups including the American Catholic Council, Call To Action, Catholics Speak Out, Corpus, DignityUSA, FutureChurch, PaxChristi/Maine, the Women’s Ordination Conference, and others.
We Are Church posts its dissident demands on its website. It’s easy to read between the lines to see how they smilingly disagree with current Church law. According to the We Are Church website:
We work for a church:
- which values participation
- with all ministries open to women and men,
- with optional celibacy,
- which values sexuality and primacy of conscience,
- which is committed to social justice and human rights,
- which does not marginalize its own people.
Here’s the full report on the excommunication from the Catholic Herald:
A senior figure in the We are Church movement has been excommunicated, the Austrian media have reported.
Martha Holzer and her husband, Gert, were excommunicated for “simulating the Mass”, according to the website Kath.net.
Mrs Holzer is a leading personality in We Are Church, which was founded in 1995 in Austria, German and South Tyrol and seeks liberal reforms within the Catholic Church.
According to reports, the 67-year-old regularly took part in “private Eucharistic celebrations” at her home with no priest present. The Church considers the simulation of the Mass a delictum gravius, or “grave delict”.
Bishop Manfred Scheuer of Innsbruck described the development as a “self-excommunication”, which he said was “not a victory, but always a defeat for the Church”.
In a statement Martha and Gert Holzer said they were “immensely shocked” by the excommunications.
Here, from the website of We Are Church Austria, is Holzer’s statement.
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How, Exactly, Is a Person Excommunicated?
Already in the world of social media, there is confusion about what actually happened in this case: Did Pope Francis impose the sentence of excommunication on the Holzers? Or did they “excommunicate themselves”?It’s actually harder than one might think to be excommunicated– as evidenced by the number of times Catholics will complain that Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden. Excommunication is not intended merely as a punishment; the Church also intends it as a remedy. The Church hopes that the excommunicant will be “shocked” as are the Holzers, will realize the seriousness of the break with the Church and will, therefore, seek to be reunited with the Church.
Excommunication is actually biblical. Both St. Paul and St. John write about cutting people off from the community, in order to hasten their repentance.
According to the Code of Canon Law, there are two forms of excommunication:
- Sententiae Ferendae. This is where a person is subjected to a canonical process or trial and, if found guilty of misdemeanors meriting excommunication, is duly sentenced. Once the sentence is published, that person is no longer a member of the Catholic Church. But this is a rare event.
- More common is what is called Excommunication Latae Sententiae, or “automatic excommunication.” In this case the person, in committing a certain act, incurs the penalty without any canonical process having to be taken. Among reasons for excommunication latae sententiae, the Code of Canon Law lists: physically assaulting the Pope; stealing the Host for a sacrilegious purpose; a priest giving absolution to a partner in sin against the Sixth Commandment; a priest who violates the Seal of the confessional; and someone who procures an abortion. When one of these acts has been committed, the excommunication is automatic; the Pope’s decree is merely an acknowledgement of the separation from the Church will has already occurred.
In the case of procuring an abortion, the guilty person must be over 17 years of age, must know the Church teaching regarding abortion, and must have acted deliberately and freely. Often the mother of the child, given the circumstances, will not incur the penalty. However, the doctors and medical personnel–as well as legislators who promote abortion and make it possible–can hardly claim compulsion or ignorance; so they, if they are Catholic, face automatic excommunication.
A person who has been excommunicated, either by Sententiae Ferendae or Latae Sententiae, may no longer receive the sacraments. Upon death, he or she should be denied a Catholic burial.
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Now that I’ve read a translation of Holzer’s official statement at the group’s website, I have to add one more detail: Apparently, she has refused to recognize the validity of Pope Francis’s excommunication. Holzer writes emphatically:
“We are not excommunicated from the Church, through baptism we belong to her, as long as we do not leave voluntarily. Therefore, we must also pay the church tax continue, but are excluded from the sacraments and ecclesiastical offices.”
“We will continue to work with great force for reform in the Catholic Church. Especially this procedure shows how much renovation she needs.”
Apparently, the hoped-for reconciliation and return to authentic Church teaching will not be forthcoming. Let us pray for Martha and Gert Holzer, and for all whose eyes are blinded to the truth of the one, true faith.