15 July 2012

Diocesan Hermits becoming Cloistered Nuns: Possible?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, can a diocesan hermit become a cloistered nun?]]

Yes, if a congregation is willing to accept her for formation, she can certainly do so. However, what she cannot do is simply transfer her (perpetual) vows to the contemplative community. She could do this if she was perpetually professed in another cloistered community, but it is not possible to simply transfer from diocesan eremitical life to cloistered religious life despite some similarities extant between the two. She is vowed as a solitary hermit under canon 603 and this is actually NOT consonant with cenobitical life. Instead she would need to go through the same discernment period and formation program as any other candidate for solemn profession as a nun though canonical possibilities for anticipating vows may be appropriately applied.

Thus too, I believe she would be required to be dispensed from her vows as a hermit in order to discern a vocation as a cloistered nun. I say this because she would not be able to live her rule of life while in discernment and formation in comunity and her eremitical vows are linked integrally to this Rule or Plan of Life. There might be another solution which allows a suspension of vows for a time of discernment in cenobitical life without actual dispensation but I don't actually know there is such an option. This might be more likely if the vows she has made are temporary. One would need to speak to a canonist who is truly expert in the law regarding consecrated life to know these things. I myself would suspect that even if this is a real option in law generally, it would be inappropriate for the diocesan hermit because if this hermit were later to leave the community, allowing her simply to resume life as a (perpetually) vowed hermit would not really be prudent or possible. By entering a community she effectively says she is unsure of her vocation as a solitary hermit. Thus, she would need to discern yet again whether she was truly called to solitary eremitical life or not and could not be admitted to (much less merely resume) perpetual vows until both she and her diocese was clear about this. How this all would need to be handled canonically I don't know.

To summarize, the point here is double: 1) while a person can move from being a diocesan hermit to becoming a cloistered nun she can't transfer her perpetual vows the way a Benedictine Sister wanting to become a Camaldolese might do for instance (even though doing so involves a three year process of discernment); it requires instead a separate discernment and initial formation period because it is a different vocation; 2) if a diocesan hermit decides to discern a cloistered vocation she may well be saying with this decision that she doubts her solitary eremitical (c 603) vocation; if she then leaves the cloister she is unlikely to be allowed simply to resume her eremitical vows without some sort of specific and supervised mutual period of discernment so that both the diocese and the hermit are sure of the wisdom of either readmitting to vows or allowing her to resume these. Perhaps one of the canonists that read here occasionally will contact me with an opinion and I can pass that on!

I hope this helps.