Priest who formed splinter church excommunicated

PITTSBURGH – A Roman Catholic priest who spoke out against the church hierarchy was excommunicated for holding his own Mass at an unsanctioned, splinter church, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh announced Thursday.

The Rev. William Hausen “has incurred an automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church,” according to a statement issued by the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, diocesan spokesman. The diocese issued the excommunication decree Tuesday.

Hausen, 66, presided at a Mass of his Christ Hope Ecumenical Catholic Church, which met Sunday in a hotel ballroom. He has criticized what he says is the Roman Catholic church’s hypocrisy, telling parishioners in an Easter 2002 homily that they should be angry about the clergy sex scandal and that married men and women should be able to become priests.

“I respect their informed conscience doing that and I would hope they would respect my informed conscience deciding to do what I’m doing,” Hausen said of the church decree.

“I think it’s part of the guilt and fear again, but I think people are wising up to it. I think it’s affecting people who might want to come to my liturgy, to our liturgy … I’ve had people call and say they were afraid to come because of it (the threat of excommunication),” Hausen said, “and I understand that.”

An explanatory note in the diocesan newspaper says that Hausen’s excommunication was “latae sententiae,” a Latin term that essentially means he separated himself from the church.

“In the sports world, if a player for the Pittsburgh Steelers becomes a free agent and signs with the Cleveland Browns, he is certainly free to do so,” the note says. “To continue to wear a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey and claim to be a Steeler is simply false advertising.”

Immediately after Sunday’s service, Lengwin had said the diocese was still open to reconciliation with Hausen. Lengwin repeated that in Thursday’s statement.

“We are all saddened by Father William Hausen’s decision to start his own church and continue to hold out hope that he will return,” Lengwin said.

The church also attempted to clarify Hausen’s run-ins with the church since the Easter 2002 sermon. Shortly after the sermon, Hausen was transferred from St. James Church in Sewickley to Sacred Heart Church in Pittsburgh, the parish where Hausen was raised.

At that time, Lengwin said, “If that homily had not been delivered, he may not be transferred now. There’s no question that that was the catalyst.”

But in the statement issued Thursday, Lengwin said, “the transfer came about as a means to address his threat to leave the church.”

The diocese also told Hausen, who says he is a recovering alcoholic, not to drive a car.

“It was Father Hausen’s recurring difficulties with alcohol abuse that led to his inability to carry out his pastoral duties at Sacred Heart and led to his being placed on administrative leave last October,” Lengwin’s statement said.

Before Hausen’s split with the church, Lengwin had refused to discuss the reasons for Hausen’s suspension. Hausen has told The Associated Press that he was suspended because of a dispute he had with church leaders about the “no driving” edict and that he’s been sober since being suspended.

“Father Hausen subsequently revived his plans to form his own personal church and to separate himself from the Catholic Church,” Lengwin’s statement said. “The services conducted on May 2 confirmed that decision.”

The notice in the diocesan newspaper also issued a warning to parishioners “that free and willful participation in this church implies separation from the Catholic Church.” Such Catholics cannot be considered members of good standing in the church.

Hausen said he has no plans to discontinue his church, which will celebrate another liturgy on Sunday at the Sewickley Country Inn. Hausen has financed the church himself, although a collection was taken May 2.

“We have no big money ahead of us, but for the Sunday collections to remain as it is certainly sufficient,” Hausen said. “I have enough money personally to get along for another month or two.”

If the church folds, Hausen said he would retire to a small farm he has near a Somerset County ski resort.

“If it doesn’t work out, I’ll be flipping hamburgers at Seven Springs,” Hausen said.

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