26 November 2010

Have I Softened my Stance on Assistance to the Former HIOL???

[[Sister Laurel, since it is Thanksgiving, I wanted to ask if are you still against providing assistance to the former HIOL? If so why, and if you have not softened your position on this, why not? They have proven obedient to Archbishop Lucas when others have not.]]

Yes, I am still adverse to providing relief for this group of people except an immediate emergency fund which should be administered to individuals (not to the community) for their immediate needs. Again, my reasons have to do with transparency, responsibility or acountability, prudence, and equity or justice --- reasons which are interrelated and segue into one another. Obedience to Archbishop Lucas is not an issue here. Other issues with this claim aside, Christians are not rewarded financially for keeping the commitments they have made freely.

First, transparency: I have seen no indications that any of these members is working or seeking jobs, applying for government assistance (if truly destitute and/or unable to work) which vowed religious also have to apply for, etc. I do not mean to say that I assume they are not, but simply that I don't know. They are said to be spending the next year discerning but there is no indication what this means. Does it mean determining what shape a new community will take, how they will support themselves, how active or contemplative they are, etc? Communities (lay or consecrated) seeking to live contemplative lives MUST be able to support themselves. That is simply part of the legitimate expectations belonging to discernment of genuine vocations and healthy communities. If they are going to do so by mendicancy then that needs to be clear. Again, the point here is information.

It is one thing for the Archdiocese to promise an accounting of where the money goes that comes to the relief fund. Well they should. It is another for the community itself to indicate what the former HIOL members are providing for themselves and how. There has been no indication that the latter will be forthcoming and ordinarily that would be fine (it would be a more or less private matter), but NOT when the public/laity are expected to support the group, especially in the long term. We do not do that for any other group of CANDIDATES for consecrated life, not contemplatives, apostolic religious, or even solitary eremites or consecrated virgins in the Church. Again, we don't do it for Public Associations of the Faithful much less for private associations. Nor should we. My question is, "How and when will we start expecting this group as a whole (if they choose to remain together) to support themselves as any other group in the church consecrated or lay is expected to do?"

A second part of transparency comes with my felt sense that the HIOL were imprudent in the first place by making vows which left them destitute. I don't know why canonists in the Archdiocese were not overseeing things or if the civil board eschewed this oversight right along but I do know that it seems to me that either IOL Inc bears the brunt of responsibility for supporting these people, or the Archdiocese as part of its own admission of inadequate supervision needs to pick up the slack here. (We are told that members of the community approached the diocese months ago with concerns; why were these not thoroughly investigated THEN?) At least, it seems to me, there needs to be an honest accounting of why it was these persons were left destitute, allowed to make private vows of poverty in a risky situation which are less prudent commmitments than the commitments of those in institutes of consecrated life, etc. If Archdiocesan officials warned people about the imprudence of their vow and the vows were made anyway then it really seems to me the consequences fall directly on the shoulders of those who acted despite the warnings. Again, too much of the situation is obscure and I personally cannot see assisting people in a way which does not call to real accountability at the same time.

Here we have verged into the second realm, responsibility or accountability as well. Besides the Archdiocese's role, and the individual responsibility of those who made vows, there is simply the (at least moral and possibly legal) responsibility of IOL Inc. As already noted I would want to understand why they are NOT assisting their former members, members who presumably bankrolled the community at some point. Perhaps there is no way to make them step up to the plate here, but I would want to know their place in all this --- which again returns us to the issue of transparency as well.

I have already spoken of prudence and equity really. In fact we have no way of knowing anyone in this group truly has a contemplative (or any other specific) vocation (remember they are discerning both their vocations and the shape those will take), and even presuming they do, I would want them to be responsible in the same way any other fledgling or established contemplative community (or solitary) would be. One question that comes up again and again is how were they supporting themselves before and why can't they continue to do that now?? I doubt very much all 56 were doing sufficient spiritual direction to support the community (and I would certainly wonder what was happening to other directors in the diocese if this were the case). Anyway, if they were doing paid ministry besides direction why can't they continue it now? They were in a process of discernment already. They are in one yet again. Continuing working would surely help with the process of transition. And if they were bankrolled by someone or some group of people, why was this allowed by the Archdiocese without backup plans in place? And again we get back to the questions of prudence, accountability, and transparency as well.

Is the Church willing to support every suppressed (or even every fledgling) community in this way until they transition back into ordinary lay life OR become institutes of consecrated life --- or at least every one that wishes or chooses to wear a habit (yes, I believe this is part of this particular equation)? When the next private association of the Faithful fails to become a public association, or a public association fails to become an institute of consecrated life will their respective dioceses advocate for them in the way this is being done? Remember that there are many of these extant right now and usually they are simply experiments which will and should fail. If not why not? Why do these reasons apply in this particular situation? And if so, then really, where do people who want to quit working and establish themselves as contemplative communities (or even as diocesan hermits or consecrated virgins) sign up for this new form of ecclesiastical welfare while they discern their vocations? (As I already mentioned, ordinarily they would need to be able to provide for themselves or be turned away from consideration as even serious candidates for canonical consecration. I don't think this is a precedent we want to change.)

Again, I am all for assistance as a short term, emergency fund to be administered to individuals with special needs, especially while they apply for government assistance if that is what is required. I am fine with helping individuals with the clothes needed for job interviews and anything associated with that on the short term. I am grateful to know that these people have been gifted with food, clothes, and other material needs for the time being, but the list of things needed for the next year at least continues to rankle: $25,000 a month for rent, and when they are settled, cars, trucks, computers and printers, gift cards (which suggests to me that some of these former HIOL are already getting government assistance and cannot receive cash), furniture, etc. Again, while they would LIKE to stay together as a community I wonder if it is really the church's (read the laity's) responsibility to make this possible financially, and, should they choose to do so when they ordinarily do it for no other similar group, then for how long should they continue? When does assistance become enabling? How do we know it is not that already?

In my first post on this I said I personally would need answers to lots more questions than had been forthcoming to this point. Nothing has changed in this regard, except that the "Intercessors' relief fund" makes the issue of transparency and accountability even more pointed. So, no, I have not softened my stance on this particular point yet. I am open to being convinced with information and signs of individual accountability on the part of these former members and on the part of the Archdiocese as well as IOL Inc, but no one (IOL Inc, Archdiocese of Omaha, former HIOL, etc) seems be providing that.