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Vatican ousts Austrian head of Catholic reform movement

The head of Austria's We Are Church movement has been excommunicated by Pope Francis after she carried out Mass without the presence of a priest.

Head Martha Heizer, along with her husband Gert, was excommunicated for regularly holding Mass in private in their home along with some friends, a move that is decried by the Church as 'grave delict'.

The movement We Are Church had started in Austria in the 1990s following allegations that an Austrian Cardinal had molested students at an all-male Catholic high school in the early 1970s. The grass-roots protest against the Cardinal was led by Martha at the time, and went on to become a worldwide movement that aims to improve dialogue within the Catholic Church.

The couple were informed of their ex-communication by Bishop Manfred Scheuer of Innsbruck who received the message from the Vatican earlier this week. They say they had been expecting some sort of punishment but are appalled at having been put in the same category as priests who sexually abuse children.

"This does not mean that we are not part of the church any more," they said in a statement published Thursday. "By virtue of our baptism we remain part of the church as long as we ourselves do not choose to leave it."

The statement went on to say that the couple are not accepting the decree and that they "will continue to commit ourselves to the reform of the Catholic church. These proceedings illustrate very clearly how urgent the church needs to be renewed."

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