Father Greg Reynolds of Melbourne, Australia found out last week that Pope Francis had excommunicated him, and he was shocked. Granted, Reynolds holds less than traditional views in the Catholic Church—he supports women’s ordination and gay marriage—but Pope Francis has more than hinted lately that the Church needs to adopt a new tone towards those social issues. “I am very surprised that this order has come under his watch; it seems so inconsistent with everything else he has said and done,” Reynolds told the National Catholic Reporter, a widely read source for Catholic news.
Excommunication is a severe penalty in the Catholic Church. Today it is the church’s harshest punishment, and it means an individual can no longer participate in the sacraments or worship ceremonies, much less ever officiate a mass again. Reynolds’ letter of excommunication itself contained no official explanation for his excommunication. It accused Reynolds of heresy and claimed he had violated the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Reynolds told the National Catholic Reporter that he also believes he was excommunicated because of his support for the gay community. He has officiated mass weddings for gay couples, even though he claimed they were unofficial, and he justified his actions as a call for reform. “I still love the church and am committed to it,” he told the Standard newspaper, arguing he was trying “to help highlight some of the failing and limitations.”
Pope Francis has made waves lately for advocating for necessary reforms in the Catholic Church, especially when it comes to gays and women. While the Supreme Pontiff does have to sign off on excommunications, Francis may not be as directly responsible for Reynolds’ dismissal as it might initially appear. Excommunication processes tend to take a long time, even years, and Reynolds was likely already tagged for removal before Francis took office in March. His non-traditional views stem back years. He preached in support of women’s ordination in 2010, resigned as a priest in the Melbourne Archdiocese in 2011, and yet continued to practice as a priest without the authority and backing of the church. He then founded a group called “Inclusive Catholics” for people who also support women’s ordination and gay marriage.
However, the announcement serves as a reminder that despite the recent excitement over Pope Francis’ reforming attitudes and calls for increased compassion for women and gays, he has not changed any actual Catholic doctrine, nor is he likely to do so. Women’s ordination and gay marriage are still closed doors. The Pope, as they say, is still Catholic.