My immediate thoughts yesterday, when I heard that Gert and Martha Holzer had been excommunicated, was why did it take so long and why only them. The Holzer’s are leading figures in the international movement We Are Church and they were informed by Bishop Manfred Scheuer at their home of their excommunication.
I have on numerous occasions on this Blog expressed my concerns about the South African division of We Are Church. We Are Church has groups in many countries, including in South Africa.
Some of the objectives of We Are Church are the ordination of women priests and the removal of the vow of celibacy for priests. In November 2011 they outrageously announced a campaign of holy disobedience.
In January 2012 the editor of The Southern Cross, Gunther Simmermacher, wrote an editorial entitled “Unity In The Church”. In it he announced that the South African division of We Are Church had decided to rename itself and had chosen “We Are All Church South Africa” as their new name. He also advised that the South African group had adopted its own mission statement, separate from that of the international movement We Are Church.
According to Gunther Simmermacher the reason for the groups decision was specifically to distance itself from the “toxic brand” of the international movement, We Are Church. Gunther Simmermacher claimed that the South African groups actions were a statement of “serious intent to be part of the life of the local Church”. He further emphasised that the “good faith of WAACSA’s membership should not be doubted”.
While Gunther Simmermacher was clearly convinced about the sincerity of the South African group, there was no doubt in my mind that We Are All Church South Africa had simply implemented a strategy of damage control. Their objective was simply to placate the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the aftermath of the call for holy disobedience. I set this out in my Blog post “We Are Church In Disguise”.
Since then there have been numerous items posted on the websites of both We Are All Church South Africa and We Are Church. These have confirmed my contention that the alleged “distancing” between these groups never actually occurred. It was clearly just lip service intended to placate the South African bishops.
There are various examples of the continued ties with the international movement We Are Church. Take the report about a meeting in June 2013 in Ireland with Brian Robertson, the National Coordinator of We Are All Church South Africa. The meeting took place 18 months after the alleged “distancing”. This is indicative of a group working together, not "distancing" itself from We Are Church.
Then there is the conference that is currently being arranged by We Are Church, which will be held in Rome in 2015. Douglas Irvine, a member of We Are All Church South Africa, is listed by We Are Church as one of their 15 main contact persons for the conference. Again this is indicative of working together, not "distancing".
I could go on listing examples but I believe that a cursory investigation by anyone will undoubtedly confirm that the alleged “distancing” from We Are Church, despite what Gunther Simmermacher said to South African Catholics in 2012, never actually occurred. We were misled.
I previously called on the Southern African Bishops to follow the example of Archbishop Stephen Brislin of the Cape Town Archdiocese and ban this group from holding any of their meetings on any of the premises of the Church - “Pope Calls For Obedience To Magisterium”.
|Bishop Manfred Scheuer|
The mere fact that this group is permitted to meet on Church premises, advertise their meetings in Catholic newspapers and on the Facebook pages of a Catholic diocese, while also regularly having Catholic priests and deacons as their guest speakers, is guaranteed to create confusion amongst the lay faithful. It almost certainly sends a message that this group operates with the approval of the Southern African Catholic Bishops.
Surely now, in light of the Holzer’s excommunication, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference will see this as an extremely appropriate moment to clarify to the faithful in South Africa the bishops position regarding both the international and the local movement. Indeed this announcement should, as the editorial did in 2012, be prominently placed in The Southern Cross to correct the erroneous message that was originally communicated in the editorial of The Southern Cross.