In its 165 years of existence, the Diocese of Little Rock had never experienced its members being excommunicated, that is, until recently. Six sisters in Hot Springs, Arkansas were automatically excommunicated due to their participation in the Community of the Lady of All Nations, or more commonly called, the Army of Mary.
The group, which was founded in Quebec, Canada is known for elevating the Virgin Mary to the status of God, and the belief that their founder is “possesed by Mary."
"The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the declaration of excommunication on July 11, after extensive consultations with the Canadian bishops and the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Pope Benedict XVI approved the declaration, which was only announced by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on Sept. 12. CNA coverage here http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=10381
A Vatican official stated that the “association is no longer considered a Catholic organization because of its false teachings on the Trinity and Mary.”
Excommunication excludes members from “communion” within the Church. The members are not able to lead the Liturgy (if they are priests), receive the Eucharist or partake in other sacraments.
According to Arkansas Catholic, "They will no longer have any sacraments. We removed (the Blessed Sacrament) from the premises last night," Monsignor Herbert, archdiocese administrator, reported.
Although they cannot receive Communion, they are encouraged to attend Mass, he said.
According to the Arkansas Democratic Gazette, Monsignor J. Gaston Hebert, the diocesan administrator, said he notified the sisters of the decision Tuesday night after they refused to recant the group’s teachings.
“This is a painfully historic moment for us and the church,” he said.
The sisters, many who became involved with the community 20-30 years ago, say that they will continue to live in the convent, and strive to do God’s work.
“We want to do God’s will, and we believe we are Catholic,” said the 82-year-old Dionne, the assistant superior of the convent. “Even though they say we are not Catholic, this is not true,” said Dionne.
The Army of Mary was established by Marie Paul Giguere in 1971 after she began receiving visions from God. However, in 1987, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, ruled that two books the group used taught “erroneous doctrines”, and subsequently the groups was investigated for heretical teachings.
“When something comes up, particularly within the church, that contradicts or would add to or subtract from things which we believe to be the inspired word of God, we are going to be very vigilant,” Monsignor Hebert said. “Whether it is too liberal, whether it is too conservative, if it is opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ as expressed through the Scripture and the Church, [then] that is heresy.”
Though they are excommunicated, the sisters can still receive the sacraments in extreme circumstances such as Last Rites. They are also allowed to attend Mass and can return to “full communion with the Church” if they renounce the movement’s teachings.
“They are still Catholic,” said McAllister, Chancellor of the diocese. “We are always ready for them to rejoin communion with the church.”