Austrian bishop digs up old canon law to excommunicate couple

National Catholic Reporter

Robert Blair Kaiser | May. 30, 2014

We have a pope who has said he is trying “to light a fire in the heart of the world.” Now, to my surprise, the bishop of Innsbruck, Austria, seems to be throwing cold water on the entire project.

Bishop Manfred Scheuer has dug up an old piece of canon law to ask Rome to levy the penalty of excommunication on Martha and Gert Heizer for their occasional ritual remembrance of the Last Supper of Jesus, who bid his disciples to “do this in memory of me.” Even more surprising: The Holy Office complied with the bishop’s request without bothering to ask the pope, if we can believe a report from Austria’s Kathpress that Pope Francis had never been informed of the Holy Office’s decision.

We have historic backing for home liturgies without a priest. None of those disciples at the Last Supper were ordained, nor was ordination an issue for women like St. Paul’s Phoebe and Prisca and Priscilla, who presided in their home churches for the earliest Christians. Yet here we see an Austrian bishop mining medieval/Renaissance Canon 1378 for a warrant to condemn the Heizers for, as the canon says, “enacting the liturgical action of the Eucharistic Sacrifice” and thereby incurring “an automatic penalty of interdict.” Contemporary Catholics are consulting Mr. Google to find out what that means. In 1077, Pope Gregory VII slapped an interdict on the Holy Roman Empire to bring King Henry IV to his knees in the snow at Canossa. Not since then have too many prelates used the threat of interdict.

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