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The head of pro-reform movement We Are Church in Austria has been excommunicated by the Vatican for "celebrating" Mass, the Austrian press has reported.
According to the Austrian daily Tiroler Tageszeitung Martha Heizer and her husband Gert were excommunicated for regularly “simulating the Mass”, which the Church considers a delictum gravius, or “grave delict”. The couple are now barred from the sacraments.
The couple has reportedly been celebrating Mass privately at their house together with a small group of friends for several years in what they term “celebrations of the Eucharist without a priest”.
Bishop Manfred Scheuer of Innsbruck received the decree of excommunication last night. He took the excommunication decree to their house last night and read it out to them but they refused to accept it.
He described the move as a “self-excommunication”, which he said was “not a victory, but always a defeat for the Church”.
The couple issued a statement, saying they were “shocked” by Rome’s approach.
Martha Heizer was one of the initiators of the grass-roots protest signed by more than 500,000 Austrian Catholics after the Groer Affair of 1995 – which turned into the We Are Church movement and spread to other countries from here.
Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer resigned as Archbishop of Vienna in 1995 after protests from church leaders and lay Catholics appalled at allegations he had abused seminarians in the 1970s.