Excommunicated priest says majority agree but fear reprisals

A PRIEST excommunicated from the Catholic Church due to his views on homosexuality and women’s ordination, believes more than half the Australian clergy would agree with his views.

Father Greg Reynolds received a letter stating his ex-communication from the church just days ago after his resignation as a priest in the Melbourne Arch Diocese in 2011.

He believes fellow priests and members of the Catholic congregation are too afraid to express their opinions for fear of repercussions from the church.

The excommunication document - written in Latin and giving no reason - was dated May 31, meaning it comes under the authority of Pope Francis who made headlines on Thursday calling for a less rule-obsessed church.

Father Reynolds says while the letter is out dated  by the Pope’s comments this week, he wanted the same thing as the Church’s leader was calling for and believed reform and renewal were necessary.

The Melbourne priest of more than three decades founded Inclusive Catholics, which he calls an "evolving community", last year. A priest and bishop from the Independent Catholic tradition have joined him and services are held “every couple of weeks.”

A following of a dozen or so people attend the services but Father Reynolds says Inclusive Catholics has a mailing list of around 200 people and support is growing.

“Just from my own experience, I’m aware of a number of priests who share my belief and my guesstimate would be well over half of the Australian clergy would share that belief.

“Understandably none of them haven’t spoken out publically about it because they fear they will suffer the same fate as myself," Father Reynolds said.

“I guess  when they weigh it up they feel they can do more good for the  community by staying within the system  and trying to bring about reform and renewal from within.

“We have over 200 people on our mailing list and  the majority of people who are  hesitant to come because of the consequences for themselves -  have got to support us in a clandestine sort of way.”

“My motivation is trying to encourage reform and clear need for renewal in the church.

“I still love the church and am committed to it, I’m just trying to bring about in my own little way to help highlight some of the failing and limitations.”Father Reynolds said he is continuing to gather support for inclusive Catholics.

“I’m constantly receiving emails and contact (from people) and they’re grateful that I’ve taken this stand and helping support their cause.

“They appreciate that I support them and, for me, it’s a real privilege to be able to do that.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to expand and do what we do and it’s up to God I guess where it goes and how far. There’s certainly a lot of potential given the number of people giving up on practicing their faith is so huge.

“There’s a lot of people looking for a different form and expression of worship.”

Father Reynolds told Fairfax Media he had expected to be defrocked, but not excommunicated. 

But it would make no difference to his ministry. According to church teaching, excommunication is the strongest sanction and means one can not hold any office or receive any sacraments. Being laicised means one is no longer a priest.

Fairfax Media understands that the only other Melbourne priests laicised against their will have been notorious paedophiles.

Father Reynolds is not the first Australian Catholic to be excommunicated. The best-known was Sister Mary MacKillop, who was excommunicated by her local bishop but was reinstated. In 2010 she became Australia's first saint.

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said Father Reynolds was excommunicated  by the Vatican because after his priestly faculties were withdrawn he continued to celebrate the Eucharist publicly and preach contrary to the teachings of the church.

- with Barney Zwartz – Religion Editor of The Age

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