13 April 2013

Canon 603 as a Way to Correct Abuses?

Dear Sister, are you aware that there are different versions of the origins of canon 603 out there on the internet? One version I read recently said, [[The Canon lawyer discussed Canon 603, of 1983 and explained it was a revision of the 1917 Canon regarding eremitic life. He said that laws are created due to abuses and also because of desire by some to have "official stamp" of approval. Perhaps there have been those, he pointed out, who said they were going to live a life of stricter separation from the world or in prayer and fasting, but did not. The law provides for the Bishop to step in and correct the abuses, if the hermit has been publicly avowed, and those vows received by the Bishop. 

He said it is a legality, of publicly approving the hermit in the name of the Church, of it being of public record, regardless of how many were actually at the profession of vows. He said that may be just the hermit and the Bishop. But it is done in the name of the Church, with the Bishop saying he receives the vows on behalf of the Church. As for vows being made publicly but not received by the Bishop, that could not be in the name of the Church. This is what must be made clear, for this was the stumbling point. In St. Colette's time, she made vows publicly, and she was generally known as the anchorite, and her life exemplified this. Now, a person would not be seen as a hermit in the name of the Church. The public aspect today is that of the law, of the Bishop receiving the vows in the name of the Church, on behalf of the Church.]] So, who's right, you or the canonist?

Hi there,
      yes, I am very much aware of some of the misinformation available out there on the internet. I have actually responded to questions about this very passage in the past. You can find it here: canon-603-misunderstandings-of-origins-and-nature.html. Because your own question is repetitive, I am answering it again here partly because I am trying to learn to do internal links (and I especially apologize to regular readers for the repetition if this experiment fails!).

      Generally, what I discuss in that post is that I think the canonist is correct about the way some canons generally come to be as a response to abuses, but in this case (assuming the lay hermit quoting him has done so accurately) he is simply wrong. Not only is he mistaken about the history of the vocation by speaking as though canon 603 is a revision of an already-existing canon and by omitting any mention of Bp Remi De Roo or Vatican II (cf Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Visibility and Betrayal of the c 603 Vocation under section, "The Heart of the Matter) but he has not thought out this notion of bringing hermits under control by granting them canonical standing.  You see, this latter makes no sense for hermits who are privately dedicated; why give them standing in law when leaving them without standing actually significantly limits the impact of any abuses they may have embraced? (The positive affects of such a life are a different matter!) Such hermits are relatively few and far between. The contemporary Church is not overrun with them or with hermits of ANY stripe! Were this the case then indeed, the Church might want to create a canon regulating them. However, we still have to ask, if they are not canonically consecrated, what kinds of abuses could they possibly be committing? They have not accepted the public/canonical rights and obligations of the life (including a detailed Rule of Life and responsibility to superiors and community) so what could they be abusing?

      After all, without canonical standing the person is living a private vocation as hermit; they are not Catholic Hermits, and nothing they do as a hermit per se is done in the name of the church. A lay hermit might be eccentric or an adherent of a strange theology and spirituality. As baptized Catholics some of this might become a matter of concern to Church authorities who have the right to act appropriately in their regard, but this would occur because this person is a baptized Catholic, not because they are a lay hermit.  Of course one would hope that such hermits live their lives well in an edifying way, but their commitments are private matters and to be frank, they can be as eccentric or strange in their spiritualities as they like without significant impact on the ecclesial eremitical life itself. Let me give you an example. Recently another diocesan hermit sent me a story from his own area about a "hermit" (a person who lived in solitude) who stole regularly to allow himself to live. We both agreed that this guy gives hermits a bad name. However, at the same time this person in no way reflects on the eremitical vocation in the Church and diocesan hermits do not feel he reflects on their calls. He DOES represent part of a host of stereotypes diocesan hermits have to combat with their lives though.

      Of course it is hard to imagine the contemporary Church giving such a person canonical standing to correct his abuses!!! However, were the Church to do so by professing him publicly as a Catholic hermit, then indeed, everything he does would reflect on the vocation and his diocese. Moreover had this been a diocesan hermit the church would need to take action to correct his abuses --- and in serious circumstances like this she would most likely do so by dispensing him from his vows and removing his canonical standing as a hermit. So again, my answer to your question is that assuming this canonist was correctly quoted, he is incorrect. The Church does not give canonical standing only to immediately remove it again as a censure. She does not extend canonical rights and obligations to a small group of persons to gain control over miscreants. Canonical standing is a gift to the individual and to the Church insofar as it helps nurture and protect authentic eremitical vocations; that is the real bottom line here. The history of Canon 603 attests to this gift-quality as the origin of this vocation.

I hope this is helpful to you!