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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. 

 

Dr Martha Heizer and her husband, Gerd, will no longer be able to receive Communion at Mass in the Roman Catholic Church because they and their group celebrated the Eucharist together without a Ministerial Priest being present.  

 

There are a variety of opinions within the We Are Church movement about this and so response has been left to individual national groups.

 

Many We Are Church groups agreed with the press release of Noi Siamo Chiesa which was translated into English, German, French, Spanish

  

Statements by We Are Church groups

 

Wir sind Kirche Austria - Vertrauen für Martha Heizer grosse Richtungsdiskussion angesagt 

Wir sind Kirche Deutschland - Zur Exkommunikation durch Bischof Scheuer

Wir sind Kirche Austria - Martha remains in the Chair

We Are Church Ireland - Support for Martha Heizer

0gså vi er kirken, Norway - Sad News

We Are Church - France - Soutien à Martha et Gert Heizer suite à la décision d’excommunication

Vi är kyrka - Sweden - FÖR VÄKS HEMSIDA

Katolsk Vision - Sweden - Excommunication clarifies the differences of opinion within Wir sind Kirche movements

Vi Er 0gså Kirken, Denmark   -  A commentary on excommunication of Martha Heizer

Nous Sommes aussi l'Eglise, France - La présidente du mouvement international Nous Sommes Eglise excommuniée 

We Are Also Church, South Africa - Statement regarding the excommunication of Martha Heizer.

 

Statements and Comments by others

For All Eternity - Statement by Dr Thomas Plankensteiner, founding Chairman of We Are Church in Austria.

Commentary by Dr Paul Collins (Catholica)

Statement by the Austrian Priests' Initiative  [German] [English] [Spanish]

Excomunión a la responsable del movimiento «Somos Iglesia»

Excomulgados por celebrar sin cura la Cena del Señor

Excommuniés pour avoir célébré la messe sans prêtre

¿Celebrar la Eucaristía sin un sacerdote? 

 

 

On Tuesday afternoon (June 10, 2014) the steering committee of the Austrian Plattform Wir sind Kirche had a meeting and they all agreed that Martha will continue to be Chair of Wir sind Kirche Austria despite of her excommunication. In October they will have an extraordinary plenary meeting about the future course of Wir sind Kirche Austria

 

VERTRAUEN FÜR MARTHA HEIZER GROSSE RICHTUNGSDISKUSSION ANGESAGT

Zur Exkommunikation durch Bischof Scheuer

Excomunión a la responsable del movimiento «Somos Iglesia»

Excomulgados por celebrar sin cura la Cena del Señor

Excommuniés pour avoir célébré la messe sans prêtre

¿Celebrar la Eucaristía sin un sacerdote?

Commentary by Dr Paul Collins (Catholica)

Statement by the Austrian Priests' Initiative  [German] [English] [Spanish]

 

 

Commentary by Dr. Thomas Plankensteiner, the founding chairman of the platform "We are Church" in Austria, on the excommunication of Martha and Gert Heizer (Tiroler Tageszeitung, 30 May 2014)

 

For a week there has been an intense debate about the excommunication of Martha Heizer, the co-ordinator of IMWAC. In this context I can think of a parable of Jesus:


At that time, the Pharisees came to Jesus and asked him, "Rabbi ! Here is a woman who has illegally celebrated the Eucharist without a priest in her house. We have an old law and according to that law only men may be ordained as priests to celebrate the Eucharist. That's why she deserves a severe punishment. What do you say?"
The Pharisees wanted to set him a trap.

 

Jesus responded with a parable : "In a country the rulers passed a law that forbade women to help the sick. For a long time the people complained that this law was unfair and violated human rights. But the rulers remained deaf and reaffirmed the law, saying that this law will apply for all eternity. Then there came a woman who could no longer put up with this injustice and began to help the sick, knowing that she thus transgressed a law. I ask you now: Who carries the greater blame ? That woman or the rulers who clung to an unjust and inhumane law?"

 

Then the Pharisees were silent and went away with downcast faces.

 

Dr. Thomas Plankensteiner was the Initiator of the Church Referendum in 1995 

 

We reject the Decree says the spokesman for We are Church (Italy)

 

Martha Heizer and her husband Gerd gathered at home to celebrate the Eucharist together with some other people in ways similar to those which have been long practiced by base communities, i.e. without a canonically accredited Ministerial Priest. At the same time, as far as we know, they continued to be active in support of their parish. In this way they have attempted to be consistent with the practice and teaching of Jesus to make the Gospel more accessible and better understood by all.

 

This is the way the Church will go in the future by calling on the so-called viri probati (and mulieres probatae) to enable all the baptised, the People of God, to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist. In many situations in the world, for example in Latin America, where a Priestly presence is only available occasionally, things are moving in this direction. The Bishop of the Amazon Diocese in Brazil has recently discussed this with Pope Francis and has been heard.

 

That being said, we believe that Cardinal Müller (Prefect of former Holy Office), knowing that Martha Heizer is the Chairperson of the International Movement We Are Church and, a few weeks ago elected to the Chair of We Are Church (Austria), has "used" this matter to indirectly but very strongly attack the new direction of Pope Francis and the essential reforms which he is proposing.  This action leaves us with no other interpretation as it moves against the Chairperson of the main movement which has been committed to the reform of the Catholic Church in line with the Second Vatican Council for many years. The International Movement We Are Church upholds the message of the new Bishop of Rome with conviction. The Decree against Martha has been delayed for three years, and seemed abandoned.  It is resurrected now when the support for change in the Church in gaining strength.

 

"Noi Siamo Chiesa " rejects the decree of former Holy Office of the Inquisition and empathizes with Martha and Gerd. It stands with them in the Church, despite the protestations of those who claim to protect the faith but instead only protect the institution’s Canon Law

 

Rome, May 22, 2014 Vittorio Bellavite, spokesman for "Noi Siamo Chiesa"