Pope Francis has allowed the excommunication of the co-founder of the dissenting group 'We are Church', Austrian media has reported.
Martha Heizer, 67, and her husband, Gert, were excommunicated for “simulating the Mass”, according to the website Kath.net.
The Heizers reportedly often took part in “private Eucharistic celebrations” at their home with no priest present. The Church considers the simulation of the Mass a delictum gravius, or a grave delict, on a par with sexual abuse and violation of the confessional.
Heizer chairs 'We are Church', which she co-founded in 1995 in Austria, Germany and South Tyrol. The group seeks liberal reforms within the Catholic Church and has long campaigned for women priests, an end to mandatory priestly celibacy, and greater participation of the laity.
Bishop Manfred Scheuer of Innsbruck described the development as a “self-excommunication”, which he said was “not a victory, but always a defeat for the Church”.
In a statement Martha and Gert Heizer said they were “immensely shocked” to be classed alongside sex abusers.
They do not accept the verdict and have vowed to "continue to work with great force for reform in the Catholic Church", adding that this decision "shows how much renewal she needs."