14 October 2013

Hermits giving Property to Dioceses?

[[Dear Sister, I want to become a diocesan hermit and turn over my house to the diocese. I would still continue to live here and even pay rent but after I was finished with the house, they could use it for another hermit or small retreats, etc. I read where another online hermit did that or tried to do that. Unfortunately, my own diocese seems  reluctant to accept my offer. Why would they not want to take over property in this way? It would certainly make my own detachment from material goods more complete and would be good business for the diocese as well.]]

Thanks for your questions.Although I cannot say with any certainty why your own diocese decided as they did, I can point to some elements which may have or likely did come into play. The first thing is you are NOT a diocesan hermit and may never be one. For a diocese to accept such an arrangement and then, some time later, agree to admit you to profession, they would find they are open to charges that there was an element of quid pro quo here rather than simple and honest discernment. One cannot purchase admission to profession nor barter for it nor should one ever give the appearance of having done so. This could only hurt the church in both short and long term and it would certainly cast the credibility of your own vocation and possibly the solitary eremitical vocation into doubt. I am sure you do not want people in the diocese saying that you were professed because you gifted the diocese in this way; neither would you ever want to hear, "Well, that other candidate was every bit as qualified, but she did not have any property, so they refused to profess her." I am not approving gossip but such a gift prior to your being admitted to profession and living the life for some time can give unfortunate appearances which could be disedifying to all concerned.

The situation could become even more difficult if the diocese accepted the arrange-ment and then failed to admit you to profession. What happens if you decide to move to another diocese? The house belongs to the diocese you are leaving; it cannot be sold by you, used as a source of your own upkeep in the future, etc. Beyond this, how might you feel in such a situation? How might the diocese feel or what complications could this cause for them? And even further, how might you feel if, besides failing to admit you to profession, the diocese decided at some point they had to sell the property or use it for other purposes (for instance for the hermitage of a publicly professed diocesan hermit who needs a more suitable hermitage than what she has already)?

You see, I am afraid if another Bishop came in or something serious happened and the diocese needed to sell off assets to take care of the situation, you would find yourself needing to find a new place to live. It has certainly happened to convents of nuns and so forth. With the high level of parish closings today and dioceses often strapped for money selling off lesser assets is something which is simply required. Unless you turn the property over to your diocese with strings attached, contingency clauses, conditions which assure your right to live there permanently, there is no way you could really protect yourself in such a matter. Yet, were contingency clauses added I think you would need to give up any notion of becoming a diocesan hermit because you could no longer convincingly affirm for people that the gift of  your property was not an element in your admission to vows. Again, that would be harmful to the vocation generally, to you, and to the diocese and its people.

Secondly, while there is a clear tension involved in diocesan hermits who need to care for themselves financially and also live contemplative lives of poverty in the silence of solitude, it is important that the vocation not be seen to be a sinecure where a diocese provides a place to live, etc. The hermit (and this includes the hermit candidate) really does need to be independent of the diocese in certain ways. This is good for both parties and for the vocation more generally. Dioceses certainly don't want folks showing up on their doorsteps saying, "X is living in  a house that belongs to the diocese; I want to do the same and I want to do it as a diocesan hermit!!"

A diocese is going to be very cautious in doing anything which could contribute to such a situation. Discernment needs to be as open to the Holy Spirit as possible and people need to be able to believe this is the case. Should you ever be finally or perpetually professed as a diocesan hermit, you will be able to revisit the issue of giving your property to the diocese. Still, you should know that a diocese might not want to do this even several years after perpetual profession because a hermit needs to maintain her ability to support herself. Selling her property at some point in later life may be a primary way of ensuring she has the resources to continue her independence as she moves to low income housing, a care facility, or something similar.  A diocese is not going to want to be complicit in a situation where they are somehow coerced or leveraged into feeling morally obligated to support a hermit in later life. (What they choose to do freely is a very different matter.)

Finally, I would suggest you consider that your own concern with detachment from material things needs to be resolved in other ways just as all hermits or hermit candidates do. Sometimes  it is the way we keep our possessions which tests our detachment and helps it grow. Sometimes giving stuff away is less a sign of true detachment than it is a signal that we are attached to a particular vision of ourselves, to some stereotype, to a tendency to impulsivity rather than to actual generosity, etc.

You see, it is possible that the desire to give something like this to the diocese, especially before one is established as a diocesan hermit, is linked to the sense that this is a way of really "belonging to" the diocese in a special way, or perhaps a way of gaining their gratitude for one's life and presence there, or simply to convince oneself of how generous, detached, or committed to poverty one really is. (While I do not think this is true of you, I do know of one case where I personally believed it to be true and where I was fairly convinced there was at least subconscious "bartering" going on on the would-be hermit's part. In any case this person was not yet a diocesan hermit and his offer was entirely premature.) While none of this last situation likely applies to your own situation, these are some of the reasons a diocese is unlikely to accept such a gift by someone who is discerning a vocation as a diocesan hermit.