We Are Church Intl.

The excommunication (?) of Martha Heizer: An illegal and senseless act in the opinion of a Canon Lawyer.


An English rendering of report 37719. ROME-ADISTA.


Last May the Bishop of Innsbruck, Manfred Scheuer, with the consent of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith headed by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, excommunicated Gerd and Martha Heizer for celebrating the Eucharist in their own home without the presence of an Ordained Priest. (see Adista News nos 20,21 and 24/14.  Martha, Chairperson of the International Movement We Are Church, and her husband have consistently said the excommunication was canonically incorrect.


Now, in support of their concern, Francesco Zanchini, former professor of Canon Law at the Faculty of Law in Teramo, publishes an authoritative and detailed essay in “Stato, Chiese e pluralismo confessionale”, the journal of the State University of Milan, http://www.statoechiese.it/images/stories/2014.7/zanchinim_o_roma.pdf

He reflects on Can. 1378 §2 in connection with the case against Martha Heizer and offers a documented analysis of the obvious illegality of the measure from a purely canonical point of view.


First of all, the Canon Lawyer writes, it should be pointed out that the bishop of Innsbruck, initially identified as the main person responsible for the canonical process against the Austrian couple, acted as a delegate of Rome and thus the responsibility for the excommunication lies with the highest Church authorities. It is the Vatican, therefore, that we have to judge over the declaration of excommunication latae sententiae against Martha Heizer for an alleged breach of Can. 1389 § 2. A charge of which Mrs Heizer can clearly be presumed innocent. The rule addresses those who “attempts the liturgical action of the Eucharistic sacrifice though not promoted to the sacerdotal order”. It has been a long tradition in the application of Canon Law that this would apply to a male, attired in liturgical vestments, proceeding to the altar with the presumed intention of confecting the Eucharist.


In accordance with this tradition, Martha Heizer never made an "attempt” to present herself as a Ministerial Priest so did not offend in this regard. Such intention cannot be ascribed to her. On the contrary she was celebrating with friends in her home in order to emphasize the need to revise the institution of the Ordained Ministry. Many believers, especially in Northern Europe, join her in the opinion that any Christian community is empowered by Jesus to share Bread and Wine in His memory. The absurdity of the accusation, as well as the nullifying the Dicastery’s statement about the latae sententiae excommunication of the victim of this monumental misunderstanding, makes further comment superfluous.


For completeness, Zanchini adds, however, it should be stressed that the rule under which it was decided to excommunicate Mrs Heizer and her husband stood in absolute continuity with the past; which increases one’s surprise at the incompetence of the staff of the Congregation in handling such matters while jealously claiming to offer the expertise that should be experienced.


Zanchini detects, for example as in the previous Code of Canon Law, promulgated in 1917 and in force until 1983, Can. 2322

“Ad ordinem sacerdotalem non promotus:

1.* Si Missae celebrationem simulaverit aut sacramentalem confessionem exceperit, excommunicationem ipso facto contrahit, speciali modo Sedi Apostolicae reservatam; et insuper laicus quidem privetur pensione aut munere, si quod habeat in Ecclesia, aliisque poenis pro gravitate culpae puniatur; clericus vero deponatur;”


Even going back to the sources of canonical tradition, "the situation remains constant" and the regulations always hit first, and with insistence, the figure of a deacon, a fortiori the altar subordinate to him (sub-deacon). The primary intent is to preserve the person (bishop or priest) destined to preside over the assembly of worship.  Only later- emphasizes Zanchini- to this requirement was added another, however secondary and moralistic, to discredit the validity of an act committed by turpem dolum sacrilegum (filthy fraudulent impiety), that was not traceable in the term "simulation" in the code of 1917. That term, explains the Canon Lawyer, noted the peculiar evil of consistent offence, in accordance with the doctrine of the time, in which the parish community were present at an “idolatrous” ritual without being aware of it. They could not be held guilty.


For all these reasons Zanchini discounts "with absolute certainty any and all pre-sentencing statements, made recently by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith against Mrs Martha Heizer."  Heizer was not a Deacon; she was not pretending to be ordained and none of those present at the celebrations was ever mislead as to the meaning of the liturgies in which they participated.”


For Zanchini, then, on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, now rests the obligation to restore the good reputation of the defendant(s), even to the extent of Can. 1390 § 2 (A person who offers an ecclesiastical superior any other calumnious denunciation of a delict or who otherwise injures the good reputation of another can be punished with a just penalty, not excluding a censure. §3. A calumniator can also be forced to make suitable reparation.). This also pertains because the Eucharist without priests is poised to become, in the current climate of Catholicism, a question stantis aut cadentis Ecclesiae (necessary for the Church to survive). And this is the lesson - continues Zanchini - which we can draw from the epilogue to this latest storm in a teacup, imposed by Card. Müller on our Christian patience.