Australian priest first to be excommunicated by Pope Francis

Accused of heresy, throwing away consecrated host, speaking against church

Pope Francis pictured during the weekly audience in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican last May. Photograph:  REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito

Pope Francis pictured during the weekly audience in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican last May. Photograph: REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito

Thu, Sep 26, 2013, 15:20

An Australian Catholic priest Fr Greg Reynolds (60) has been excommunicated by Pope Francis because of his views on women priests. It is understood to be the first excommunication of any kind to take place under this Pope since he assumed office last March.

In a letter the Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart said “the decision by Pope Francis to dismiss Fr Reynolds from the clerical state and to declare his automatic excommunication has been made because of his public teaching on the ordination of women contrary to the teaching of the Church and his public celebration of the Eucharist when he did not hold faculties to act publicly as a priest.”

Fr Reynolds told the US National Catholic Reporter (NCR) website he believed the excommunication also resulted from his support for the gay community. He told NCR that in the last two years, he has attended rallies in Melbourne advocating same-sex marriage and has officiated at mass weddings of gay couples on the steps of Parliament, “all unofficial of course.”

He continued, concerning Pope Francis, “I am very surprised that this order has come under his watch; it seems so inconsistent with everything else he has said and done.”

A letter from Archbishop Hart to the other priests in the archdiocese explained that Fr Reynolds’ his excommunication was “because of his public teaching on the ordination of women.” Ordaining, supporting, or becoming a female priest has been explicitly grounds for automatic excommunication since at least 2008, following a declaration by Pope Benedict.

Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that his beliefs on the subject are aligned with that declaration.

He did not address the issue in his interview last week with Jesuit publications.

In November 2010 Australian media reported that Fr Reynolds had devoted his homily at three parishes over a weekend the previous September to proclaiming it was God’s will to include women in the priesthood and said denying women the right equalled “obstructing the work of the Holy Spirit.”.

In August 2011 Fr Reynolds resigned his position as pastor of two rural parishes and Archbishop Hart subsequently removed his priestly faculties. Fr Reynolds went on to found Inclusive Catholics as a way “to minister to and with Catholic people who share” his beliefs on women’s ordination and homosexuality, according to the Inclusive Catholics website. He also continued to say Masses and celebrate the Eucharist.

In August 2012 he he was involved in controversy when it was reported in Australian media that a dog had received Communion at a recent service. Fr Reynolds said at the time he was not aware of the incident with the dog during the liturgy and only learned of it later.

In a letter of August 10th 2012 Archbishop Hart wrote to him saying “as your statements and actions are inconsistent of your resignation from active priestly ministry and the consequent suspension of your faculties to act publicly as a priest, I am forced to warn you that if this stance continues, I will be forced to take further canonical action for the good of the Church.”

The following month, September 2012, Archbishop Hart said he would initiate canon law proceedings against Reynolds for his dismissal from the clerical state. However the Archdoicese has since said this did not happen but that unknown people had contacted the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which then requested Fr Reynolds’ file from Archbishop Hart.

The excommunication letter from the CDF, dated May 31st but not presented to Fr Reynolds until September 18th last, accused him of heresy and determined he had incurred latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication for throwing away the consecrated host or retaining it “for a sacrilegious purpose” It also referred to his speaking publicly against church teaching.

It read “Pope Francis, Supreme Pontiff having heard the presentation of this Congregation concerning the grave reason for action ... of [Fr Greg Reynolds] of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, all the preceding actions to be taken having been followed, with a final and unappealable decision and subject to no recourse, has decreed dismissal from the clerical state is to be imposed on said priest for the good of the Church,” and was signed by Archbishop Gerhard Muller, prefect for the CDF.

In an impromptu press conference on July 28th last, aboard the papal plane on his return to Rome from World Youth Day in Brazil, Pope Francis said, “on the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and said no. Pope John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed.”

Meanwhile the Jesuit America magazine has apologised for accidentally omitting an sentence from its translation (from the Italian) of Pope Francis’s comments on women in the 12,000 word interview published last week.

It has pointed out that when the Pope was asked ‘What should be the role of women in the church?”, he began his reply with, “’It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church.” This sentence, America said was left out of its English translation of the interview.

What the Pope actually said then was “‘It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church. I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of f ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role.”

He continued “The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”