15 October 2010

Suppression of the Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb

I am posting the following stories about the suppression of the Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb because they raise a number of issues I have written about in the past. Included would be the use of the designation Catholic (Catholic hermit, Catholic Congregation, Catholic organization, etc), the right (and responsibility) to wear a habit or use a title as something which is given (and taken away) by the Church and cannot be assumed by individuals on their own, the difference between canonical and non-canonical vows (Religious Sisters and Brothers v Hermit Intecessors), and the issue of being cautious about new charisms or communities which are moving (or wish to move) towards canonical status.

Also alluded to in the earlier article (second below) is the fact that the move to canonical standing is meant to be overseen at every stage by the diocese, and well should be. I have treated all these issues as serious because the Church holds them to be so, not because I am legalistic, but because I am strongly pastoral. They are not, as some persons would like to contend, abstract or merely intellectual issues. They affect lives at every level, and almost every one of them is reflected in the situation with the Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb. I believe the following letter and story underscore the same concerns at every point.

Personally while I have never understood the designation "hermit" in the group's name or much else about them (I did not know they were a "mixed community", for instance, nor did I know that the "hermits" had a schedule like the one I wrote about recently --- 5 days of activity and Saturday devoted to solitude and silence, for instance), I have no opinions whatsoever on the suppression. I simply do not know much more than is included in the following letter from Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Timothy McNeil or the preceding article (placed after the letter though), and that is not enough to form an opinion in the matter. Clearly suppression is a very serious and significant move, and we should pray for those members who are now formerly privately vowed** and must find ways to live out their Christian commitment in new ways and contexts, but more than that I cannot say without research and reflection.

N.B., I am, however, including a picture I just saw (from the CMSWR website under members) which has a CHILD wearing a habit and professed person's veil. (There is a small boy with what looks like a monk's habit/hood in the same picture but the details are hard to make out.) Consider what I have written about casual practices which empty the habit of meaning or significance and see if this does not fit that bill. The trivialization of the habit in this way would raise questions for me about the group as a whole all by itself --- and perhaps about their putative membership in CMSWR and what it says about that organization's policies and stances regarding non-habited communities as well.)

** It should be noted that the vows of ANY of the HIOL were considered private or non-canonical vows since the group/organization had not been established as an institute of consecrated life yet. Vows of those who are part of an association are considered private. Only those of religious and diocesan hermits are considered public, while those of members of secular institutes are a kind of anomaly which are considered semi-public. The vows of Societies of Apostolic Life are also considered private.

Despite these distinctions what should be noticed is 1) that vows of whatever sort represent significant commitments, and 2) nonetheless, the HIOL have not been reduced from the consecrated state. It is important to keep that in mind in evaluating the Church's actions here.

[[October 15, 2010
Today, for grave reasons, I suppressed the Hermit Association of the Intercessors of the Lamb. The reasons for this suppression are noted in a separate news release, principally, the refusal of the lay civil board of the Intercessors of the Lamb,Inc., a Nebraska corporation, to acknowledge my authority in making much-needed reforms in the community. The way of life of some fifty vowed members was in peril due to actions of a handful of civil directors. The vows of the former members have ceased (c. 1194), and they are to set aside the habit and refrain from using the titles “Mother,” “Brother,” or “Sister.” They are no longer considered to be in consecrated life or assimilated to it in the Church.

I am providing for the care of the former members in the short-term, and remain committed to helping them in any way I can in the future. From this point forward, The Intercessors of the Lamb, Inc., is in no way associated with the Catholic Church. As Archbishop of Omaha, and in view of my authority to govern and guard the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church (c. 835 §1), I hereby decree that no liturgical or sacramental celebrations are to occur on any property owned by the Intercessors of the Lamb, Inc., within the Archdiocese of Omaha. Priests, deacons, and lay ministers are to observe this prescription. The chapel formerly known as the Our Lady of Light Chapel on the Bellwether campus in Omaha is no longer a Catholic chapel. Catholic faithful worldwide should be aware that any alms given to the Intercessors of the Lamb, Inc., are not being given to a Catholic organization. Those who previously had scheduled retreats or other Catholic ministry opportunities there should look elsewhere.

Those who consider themselves “companions” or “associates” of the Intercessors, some of whom have even taken [private] vows, are hereby informed that such vows were never canonically recognized in the Church. Even if such vows were binding in conscience, they too cease in view of the suppression of the Hermit Association of the Intercessors of the Lamb and c. 1194. Of course, Catholic faithful are always welcome, in virtue of their baptism, to associate together and to pray. I would encourage those companions and associates to continue to pray for the former vowed members of the Intercessor community, for the Church, and for the needs of the world.

An Earlier Piece of the Story (Status of Group, Leader steps down)

[[Deacon Timothy McNeil, chancellor of the archdiocese and director of communications, explained to CNA on Monday in a phone interview that Sr. Nadine had approached the newly installed Archbishop Lucas last year in order to move the group's status to the next canonical tier.

In an effort to familiarize himself with the group before advancing Sr. Nadine's initiative, Archbishop Lucas had canon lawyer Fr. James Conn act as his delegate in conducting a canonical visitation of the Intercessors.

“We learned some things that were kind of alarming,” said Deacon McNeil, adding that the findings showed that “they were not ready to make the next step.”

“The findings were such” that if the group was going to advance to the next canonical status, he noted, “it would have to be under the leadership of another individual.”

For that reason, the deacon said, Archbishop Lucas asked Sr. Nadine to resign “and she agreed to it.”

When asked what the specifics findings of the visitation were, Deacon McNeil explained that they included “discord within the group, widespread dissatisfaction with current leadership, reservation of the Eucharist in a way that is not provided by ecclesiastical law,” poor “management of temporal goods” and an inability of group members to articulate the Intercessors' charism.

“The combination of all of these things,” he added, “resulted in the group needing a new leadership change.”

Deacon McNeil said that Archbishop Lucas has appointed Fr. Gregory Baxter – a pastor of the local St. Margaret Mary parish who has held numerous archdiocesan positions – as trustee of the group.

In a statement released by the Omaha archdiocese on Oct. 4, the archbishop said that “Father Conn’s preliminary findings, as well as Father Baxter’s appointment as trustee, will help chart a course forward for the community. I’m grateful for Father Conn’s good work, and I have full confidence in Father Baxter’s ability to guide the visitation to a successful conclusion.”