Wir Sind Kirche ("We Are Church") movement in Austria, and her husband Gert were formally excommunicated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for "having 'private Eucharistic celebrations without the presence of a priest'" and publicizing the fact. The Heizers immediately issued a statement saying that they still considered themselves to be Catholic by virtue of their baptism, that they rejected the decree and would work even more strongly to reform the Catholic Church since this process showed how much renewal is needed. Fr. Helmut Schüller of Austria's Pfarrer Initiative issued a statement of support for the couple saying that their actions had merely drawn attention to the key problem: that the Church no longer has enough priests to guarantee all Catholics regular access to the Eucharist. He said the excommunication sends the wrong signal for a Church that wants to be closer to the people and urged that it be reversed.
Meanwhile, Chilean liberation theologian Pablo Richard has a somewhat different opinion on the case which was published yesterday in Spanish on Adital and which we bring you here in English:
I have received the news about the excommunication of members of the European "We Are Church" movement. I don't agree with the actions and attitudes of this movement. Certainly the reaction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith doesn't seem appropriate to me; perhaps it could have acted differently. But the reaction of the "We Are Church" movement in Europe makes me angry.
Here in Latin America -- and in the Third World in general -- they aren't "excommunicating" us, but "assassinating" us. What has been the solidarity of the "We Are Church" movement in Europe with the poor, with the base Christian communities in Latin America? This movement bothers me, though I stand in solidarity with its victims of the "Holy Office", but they also bother me and make me mad, because this very Eurocentric movement is deforming our liberating way of being Church in the Third World -- "Church of All."
Here in Latin America we don't celebrate the Eucharist when there are no priests -- because the Church is very far from the urban centers or simply because our priests have been exiled, even murdered. This doesn't preclude the base communities from meeting on Sunday for Liturgy of the Word. When there is a priest -- something that isn't so easy or frequent -- it's the whole community that celebrates together. We are not a clerical Church.
Our Church, the one that was reborn at Medellin, in the "Biblical Liberation Movement", is a Church of everyone anytime. We are always the "Church as People of God," whatever its ecclesial structure might be. I see that the "We Are Church" movement in Europe reflects the Church's attitude a lot, very dependent on structures that are rather ecclesiastical and very theoretical and individualistic.
We stand in solidarity with the pain its leaders and its communities are suffering, we understand their dashed hopes and dreams, but don't forget that we in the Third World are also Church, a Church often martyred and persecuted, not by the powers of the Holy Office but by oppressive and often criminal political and military authorities.
Moreover, our Church has counted on the solidarity of many bishops like Mons. Romero. That is our strength and our hope. We too have been discredited, especially in the 1980s, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This delegitimation was responsible for many deaths and martyrdoms, but we were able to resist from the power of the People of God.
We analyze "where our power is" and from that we go on resisting without breaking the unity of the Gospel. Especially in Central America we always said that our strength wasn't in confrontation but in the power of the Gospel and commitment. We try to keep two realities together: the "truth of the Gospel" and the "unity of the Church."
Because of all this, we are in solidarity with the "We Are Church" movement, but we are not in solidarity with their rupturist and basically very "ecclesiastical" positions that are not very much in solidarity with the People of God in the Third World. You are too Eurocentric and focused on your own problems, with a lot of communication power but very little spirit of solidarity with those of us who "Are Church" among the poor, the invisible, those who die daily of hunger. We have the multinationals -- currently almost all European -- and their megaprojects that are wiping us out -- humans, Mother Earth, and the water.
We also have hope in Pope Francis and his very clear statements against neoliberalism, the market economy, and money fetishism in his document "Evangelii Gaudium". In the past we have been able to withstand persecution, even at times by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but our strength was always in our loyalty to and solidarity with the poor. Our liberation theology and our base Christian community institutions came out strengthened because we discovered "where our power is."
You, with your rupturist and also very institutionalist positions, are "harming" us, because you are deforming our real renewal starting from the poor and from the Third World. We are somewhat disappointed in your Eurocentrism and lack of solidarity. We certainly recognize that there are many European institutions that are supportive of the defense of human rights, of institutions that fare fighting to overcome poverty and disease on our Latin American continent. We also acknowledge the European missionaries who have given their lives for our people and our Christian communities. We even keep the memory of the martyrdom of many of them. We express solidarity with you, but you should also be supportive of the Church of the Third World. You are not the only ones who are Church.
I am Pablo Richard, writing to you from San Jose, Costa Rica. I have been working for 40 years with the people and with the Church of the Poor in Latin America. I have reflected on my opinion with many of our teams and communities and we have reached a pluralist consensus but also are firm in our convictions.