19 March 2013

What if a Bishop Retires? Will a Candidate Still be Professed?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, what would happen if a Bishop had approved a hermit for consecration according to canon 603 and then retired or became ill and was replaced by a new Bishop?]]

I can only say what the possibilities would be, and speak in likelihoods, but generally my own sense is that the profession and (with perpetual vows) consecration would go ahead with the new Bishop. If the person is already under temporary vows it is possible that a new Bishop would ask them to renew these at the appropriate time until he can get to know her and the vocation more specifically and admit her to perpetual profession and consecration. If there had yet been no temporary profession then it is likely the new Bishop would admit the person to these for a period of three to five years as the process of discernment continued.

You see, the discernment process for this vocation does not involve ONLY the Bishop nor is this only a personal decision of his, but instead it is one made on behalf of the Church. Long before a hermit candidate speaks to the Bishop (at least in my experience) she has met with Vocations personnel or the Vicar for Religious or for Consecrated Life. These meetings are periodic and give both persons a chance to really know one another. In my own process of discernment one Vicar met regularly with me in my own hermitage over a several year period. She also traveled to a hermitage in another part of the state to speak to the Prior about what was needed to live a healthy eremitical life because this was not something she was familiar with first hand. At another point in the process I met with co-Vicars and we took the steps needed so that they would be able to make a recommendation to the new Bishop. During that period (about a year or year and a half) I wrote another version of my Rule or Plan of Life which was submitted to canonists for approval, made sure all the paperwork necessary was nailed down, and waited to hear from them on any "loose ends", as well as on their decision. They recommended the Bishop profess me and asked me to make an appointment with him.

In that meeting the Bishop made clear his intention of meeting with me several more times, learning all he could about the eremitical vocation, reading anything I had written (articles, Rule, etc) --- he wanted to meet me BEFORE reading anything I had written --- and only then making a decision about professing me. About a year later he made his decision. My sense is this is all fairly typical. What I hope is clear is that the discernment process is fairly lengthy and careful, but also, that this is not simply the Bishop's decision --- though it is ultimately his of course. If a person has reached the stage where a Bishop has agreed to profess her and he becomes ill or retires, the Bishop replacing him would be likely to accept the seriousness and competence of his recommendations and those of his curia in admitting this person to vows. After all, the person's petition is a serious one and she has gone through a lengthy discernment process; it would hardly be just to simply dismiss her or her petition and the process or the work of one's curia.

I have also written about this before in response to a question which was put more negatively and in that response I noted that it was possible for a Bishop who did not believe in the vocation for some reason to refuse to profess anyone --- though one hoped it would not be a decision driven merely by personal bias. One would hope that someone already in temporary vows would continue and be professed perpetually even by such a Bishop once he got to know her and the vocation itself. Still, I do think it is unlikely that someone whose petition to be professed under canon 603 had been approved by the outgoing Bishop would not be at least temporarily professed by the new Bishop out of respect for his predecessor's decision.