01 November 2010

On the Question of Delegates for Public Associations of the Faithful

One of the questions raised by all the confusion, turmoil, and tragedy of the former HIOL situation is that of oversight, accountability, and how it is a Diocese remains completely informed about the condition of a Public Association of the Faithful, and also keep it completely informed. While my comments on support for the former HIOL may have seemed to lack compassion, they were rooted in a gut sense that something went wrong a while ago and is only now coming to the surface and while emergency assistance is important these original problems are the source of the current crisis.I am not unsympathetic to the current plight of the former HIOL, but (current legitimate emergency needs, important as they are, notwithstanding) I believe the tragedy could have been softened, attenuated, mitigated, or prevented altogether had adequate oversight and accountability been ensured right along. This is especially so with regard to the private vow of poverty which actually left former members destitute and without provision for what is a common eventuality in the life of many Associations of the Faithful.

That same sense was part of my response to the question regarding accusations of abandonment and a rush to judgment on the part of the Archdiocese when I noted that perhaps Archbishop Lucas has simply acted in a timely way after others either saw no need yet, or simply failed to do so for other reasons. At bottom I personally believe that the HIOL were not sufficiently aware of their own canonical standing as lay persons, were insufficiently cognizant of the risky status of Associations of the Faithful, and were perhaps not sufficiently clear to others regarding this category of standing in law (though I cannot verify this since their original website has been taken down). One sign, however, is that they did indeed make private vows of poverty without sufficient concern or provision for the very real possibility that the group would never become an institute of consecrated life and might even be dissolved or suppressed. How the lay board works into all this I can't say but the entire situation leaves the impression of inadequate oversight on the part of the diocese and canonists involved there as well as HIOL and IOL, Inc. Unfortunately, there seems to be lots of responsibility (not to say blame!) to apportion here, even if it is not apportioned equally. Because of this, it is my feeling that it is not necessarily the responsibility of the laity to bail people out here --- especially not in the long term! In any case, steps must be taken to ensure this never happens again, something which is key should the 56 former HIOL choose to re-form as an Association of the Faithful with an eye towards PERHAPS one day becoming an ICL with public vows.

One way of doing this is to appoint a delegate or delegates for such groups. For diocesan hermits who see their Bishops for a sit-down meeting once or twice a year usually, a delegate is either appointed by the diocese or chosen by the hermit to keep his/her finger on the pulse of things. S/he will also act as intermediary between hermit and diocese, and the Bishop will sometimes ask for his/her input on requests by the hermit for this or that permission (the use of post-nomial initials, for instance, or major changes in the hermit's Rule or praxis). Some have written here in the past that this is simply another layer of unnecessary institutionalization which detracts from the simplicity and humility of the eremitical vocation, but it really benefits the hermit and the Bishop who (along with the hermit herself) is usually only just now learning first hand about what it means to have (or be) a diocesan hermit in the diocese. (Since diocesan hermits are so rare or uncommon most Bishops do not have much experience with this. Neither do most Bishops, who are the hermit's legitimate superior, have the time to meet more frequently with hermits under their jurisdiction.) As I have noted before, the delegate thus serves as a quasi superior for the hermit and allows for genuine and adequate accountability, oversight, and information for everyone involved. Should something be questionable in the life of the hermit, or should the Bishop have concerns, the delegate serves to help mediate needed elements of clarification and resolution to both parties in a more complete and objective way. Further, the arrangement clearly cuts down on surprises and makes resolutions easier to manage -- before the situations they address have become established and more complex than originally.

All of this explains my own sense that the HIOL, a much more complex reality than a solitary diocesan hermit or hermitage after all, should certainly have had a delegate appointed by the Bishop who would be or have been responsible for communicating concerns to the Bishop in a timely fashion and working out (or calling for the appropriate people to work out) problems within the community in a similar manner. This is not meant to single out the former HIOL; it would be appropriate I think for any Lay Association of the Faithful whether private or public. It is my own sense that the delegate should probably be a perpetually professed religious with experience of the distinction between inner and outer forums in religious life, the appropriate way leadership and obedience works out in contemporary consecrated life, what happens when steps are taken prematurely or without sufficient prudence to really provide for former members or live a healthy poverty, the role and authority of the lay board, etc. Alternately, a canonist with similar experience and sensitivity, and who, for instance, has a real sense of the danger signs which must be looked out for in new groups, can clarify canonical matters for everyone, etc could well serve in such a position.

Unfortunately a lay board (which actually may be part of the problem and is certainly part of the organization requiring oversight and accountability) cannot do this, and while the moderator or general superior/director of the association will certainly assist in maintaining the mutual flow of communication, a delegate is not a member of the community (thus, s/he may be more objective) and is capable of functioning at least as a quasi superior for the whole community with their best interests AND those of the Church at heart. The fact that a delegate serves as quasi superior, though not binding members to obedience by vow or law, would also help bring to light any difficulties in the area of obedience or concerns with too-exclusive reliance on the leadership of one person, for instance. Additionally, such a delegate can help underscore for all the fact that this is a lay association in the process of discernment under the supervision of the diocese. At the very least, the impression given by the HIOL suppression has been that there was a vacuum in communication between HIOL leadership, lay board, and diocese, and perhaps therefore, in oversight and accountability as well. A diocesan delegate could well have helped overcome such a situation before it reached crisis proportions.