19 October 2010

Provisions for Old-Age and Incapacity for Diocesan Hermits?

[[Sr. Laurel, I have often wondered what provisions hermits, diocesan or otherwise, make for care in their old age. I understand a hermit is expected to be self-supporting and that normally the diocese does not provide any sort of financial asisstance. If a hermit becomes incapacitated and can no longer live alone, or needs some sort of assisted living or nursing care, does the hermit have to make arrangements for such care without any help? Could the hermit be admitted to a nursing home managed by a religious order?]]

This is a really important question and I have written about it briefly once before where I noted that there was no universal or adequate solution to the problem yet. Here I will focus on diocesan hermits. Your question also points to a reason for organizations such as the Network of Diocesan Hermits which enables diocesan hermits to share their own lived experience, problems, possible solutions, etc, with one another and the hierarchical church, and generally support one another in our living out of this vocation even in our later years. After all, we don't cease being vowed and diocesan hermits simply because we are old, ill, or incapacitated. (I should note that the NDH is not meant to be a lobbying organization, but there is no doubt that we will try to keep our fingers on the pulse of diocesan hermit life in some casual ways and seek to suggest solutions to problems diocesan hermits face increasingly. Part of this may simply be to find ways of making the Church at large aware of the needs of diocesan hermits, whether that means Bishops' Conferences, or the Sacred Congregation, etc.) Again, this is an evolving vocation, and a very young one. Both problems and solutions may occur in time that the Canon never foresaw or provided for with clarity and those you mention are certainly among these.

As for your questions themselves, yes, hermits are responsible for their own support and care. This includes arranging matters for old age, assisted living, in-home care, etc. Last year my delegate with the diocese (who works in leadership in her own congregation and is very much in touch with the problems of aging religious and their needs) asked me what I planned to do in the future should I become incapacitated or something similar. I did not have an answer for her, but I think her question was meant to assist me to begin thinking about the matter, not to elicit a detailed answer. I tell the story merely to point out that the responsibility for arrangements fall squarely on my own shoulders --- and also to point out the place a diocesan hermit's delegate may assume here. Whether she will ever ALSO speak to my Bishop about the matter is unclear (she may never need to of course), but she will encourage me in speaking to him, or to whomever else might assist me in such a situation.

As for what is possible more concretely, yes a hermit could well arrange to eventually live in a nursing home managed by a religious community. Alternately I suppose there MIGHT be congregational infirmaries or Motherhouses which would have room and allow a diocesan hermit to board there so long as the hermit was capable of paying room and board and had medical insurance. The same possibility may exist with some monastic houses but each hermit will need to ferret out the possibilities (or get help doing so) herself. Precisely because we do not cease to be vowed or hermits, a religious house of some sort would be far more ideal than an ordinary nursing home, etc. My own Bishop is solicitous of the adequacy of my financial and other resources and I suspect any Bishop who has assumed responsibility for a diocesan hermit in his see would be similarly solicitous. I believe that the diocese would assist me finding solutions and in making necessary arrangements regarding skilled nursing facilities should that situation arise, even though they are, of course, not responsible for providing actual financial assistance.

At the same time I am fairly certain that many parishes would assist in finding ways to meet ongoing needs for diocesan hermits who have lived and freely ministered within that faith community for some years. Again this does not mean they would support the hermit financially but in fact, for many of us our parishes are our primary communities and in some cases they accept that they are this as well. So, while the hermit really is completely responsible for these arrangements, she well may find assistance in making them. Regarding money, insurance, etc, hermits will mainly be surviving on medicare/medicaid and social security --- like any other older person in our society. In-home care may be available even for those on Medicaid so in general what hermits will do is precisely the same as what any poor person in our society will do. Ordinarily hermits are not included on diocesan medical or other insurance --- though occasionally we hear of cases where that has been done. Neither are they automatically included in diocesan clergy burial policies, though again, individual dioceses may rule that they may be.

So, there are a few answers to your questions, and much greater uncertainty in many ways. I hope this response is helpful nonetheless. As always, should it be unclear or raise more questions, please get back to me.