24 October 2010

Archdiocese's treatment of Hermit Intercessor's of the Lambs

One person wrote me the following email which raises, among others, the question of how the church (namely, the Archdiocese of Omaha) has treated Nadine Brown, and by extension, members of the HIOL. One other question it raises which is significant is the notion of discerning a vocation and how that happens with ecclesial vocations --- those which are effectively mediated by and are lived in the name of the church.

[[. . .All of this scandal is a tragic end to the loving ministry of Mother and the intercessors. Where can she go now that the church has abandoned her? They stripped her of her cloths, her life's vocation; and suppressed her voice. She must feel that there is a scarlet letter on her forehead. Where can we go and to whom can we ask for prayers by email from someone who does not know who we are, who will respond immediately with gentle love and kindness? Many, many, blessings were received through IOL ministry. ]]

First let me say how very sorry I am that the members of the former HIOL have suffered the loss they have. It is always difficult when, for instance, a person is required to leave formation in religious life, or religious life itself, the ordained priesthood, etc. And of course the HIOL situation was both more abrupt and unexpected than these usually are. What is true though in all these cases is that whenever we attempt to discern ecclesial vocations, we are never sure that we have such a vocation unless and until the church herself agrees and calls us forth officially for consecration. This is because the discernment in such situations is always mutual. One cannot do so on one's own -- crucial as that part of the process is. God's own call in the heart of the person is incomplete until the Church herself clarifies, affirms, and even mediates that call as well. Beyond this, because ecclesial vocations are not simply identified by rights and responsibilities that come from baptism alone, one must be admitted to profession (public) or ordination, to acquire new rights and responsibilities and the church has every right to govern and supervise these vocations.

As an example of what I mean let me use my own vocation to eremitical life. At one point and because of something which had nothing to do with me personally, my diocese ceased considering professing anyone under Canon 603. In a sense that left me hanging, however it did not nullify my own discernment in the matter completely. I was called by God (directly or in an unmediated way) to eremitical life, but what I had to accept was that perhaps this was not a call to diocesan eremitical life. Thus, until and unless my diocese discerned the reality of this vocation and admitted me to perpetual public vows I could not actually say I had been called to C603 life. More, until the very liturgy of profession where I was called forth in the name of the diocese and my parish, was examined, allowed to make profession, and received consecration and commissioning at the hands of my Bishop, I would have to consider that the very vocation (the call of God) itself was incomplete and objectively "uncertain" no matter what I felt in my heart (subjectively). In part this is because during the profession liturgy the actions of church and individual are effective. That is, in the calling forth of the candidate, the speaking of the vows, the praying of the prayer of consecration, etc, something comes to be that was not the case before. This thing comes to be in the very act of speaking. All of these events together constitute the definitive mediation of God's own call to the individual via the Church.

None of this, I am sure, eases or mitigates the pain being felt either by Nadine Brown or those to whom she ministered and who rightly came to value her assistance and life so, but it does argue that the church has not deprived her of anything (especially a vocation) that was hers apart from the larger church's own discernment and mediation, and certainly I don't think they have abandoned her in any way. In the first place, Nadine Brown's vocation was not sure. Both she and the HIOL were discerning the nature of their call along with the Church in the form of the episcopacy. They were a public association of the faithful but they were NOT an institute of consecrated life. Thus the vows held by all of those professed were private or non-canonical vows which did not initiate them into the consecrated state. Whether that consecration would or even should ever happen was an as-yet unsettled question and discernment of the matter was not simply the responsibility of Brown or other HIOLs; it was something the Church herself was ALSO responsible for.We have to understand then that the actual mediation of such a call had not occurred though the steps taken in moving from private association to public one with the intention of perhaps moving to ICL gave serious reason to believe it COULD happen one day if all went well.

Nadine Brown (or any of the HIOLs) still has the option of making private vows at any time, though it is true she/they cannot do so as part of the HIOL. A world of certain possibilities has been foreclosed to them for the moment, but they all have rights as a result of their baptism. None of those has ceased, and while it is surely difficult to start over (or continue simply as a private association of the faithful) it can be done.

The Treatment of the Hermit Intercessors by Archbishop Lucas and the Archdiocese

Despite what I have read about a rush to judgment and your own language of abandonment, etc I think it is really important to see just how generous and compassionate the Archdiocese of Omaha is being with regard to the HIOL. To provide clothing, a place to stay, counseling and direction is simply not something that is usually done even with vowed religious. The idea that a diocese will work with members of a lay organization (in the same category as the Knights of Columbus) until they figure out what they are going to do next, and what sounds like the possibility of supporting the former HIOL's in reforming in some way is literally (and unfortunately) almost unheard of. Unless Nadine Brown has allied herself with the lay board which is said to be resisting the reforms the Archbishop required, she would be part of this group with whom the diocese is working. So, "abandonment" is certainly too strong a word here.

I will say that personally I don't see where any scandal need attach to Nadine Brown from the actions of the Archdiocese. They required the group to get new leadership and so Brown resigned her role at that point. There is nothing necessarily insulting or offensive in that. There are many stories of Saints throughout the centuries who were not the best Abbots, Abbesses, etc, or were not the best at a given point in time in the congregation's history! One of the signs of a community that is ready to become an institute of consecrated life is its ability to accept new leadership and to grow from that rather than simply being demoralized by and falling apart or becoming seriously polarized because of it. So, there is no reason simply because of the Archdiocese's actions to see Nadine Brown as having a large red letter painted on her forehead. Unless she has done something truly scandalous herself. . ..

Finally, I hope you will look for others who can serve in the way Nadine Brown and the HIOL did. In fact, there is no reason she herself cannot carry on a private ministry of the kind you believe you have lost, and no reason you cannot assist in this, though again privately or perhaps through a parish, for instance. She is a lay woman as she has been right along during her time with the IOL. She has gifts and you (plural) have needs. Help each other continue to bring those together for the good of the whole Church and the world. Nadine Brown is part of the Body of Christ. That has not changed. The immediate context for her ministry has changed, but the ministry itself need not.

Addendum: 27.October.2010: Please note that the Archdiocese of Omaha has published a statement clarifying a distinction between the Association of Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb and an allied group known as the Intercessors of the Lamb. Thus, I am changing most of the IOL references in my posts to HIOL because they refer to the once canonically approved public association, not the secondary group which was never canonically approved. This can also have an effect on my comments regarding Companions of the IOL. If the Companions are simply a lay group associated with the IOL, Inc and not the HIOL, then as I have now noted above, they might well be able to continue --- though in my opinion maintaining the name Companions of Intercessors of the Lamb seems imprudent at best, and will likely be confusing, counterproductive, and possibly disedifying to the rest of the Church.