14 April 2014

What if a Bishop Wants to "Revoke" a Hermit's Vows?

[[Dear Sister, what happens if a hermit is not living their vocation well and their Bishops wants to revoke their vows? Can he really do that? How often does this happen?]]

Well, canonical vows are not revoked exactly but they can be dispensed, yes. There is a process that must be observed. First, for a person in perpetual vows there is a list of serious or grave causes given in canon 696 (cf below), any of which are sufficient to begin the process of dispensation. Four conditions apply. The causes must be grave, external, imputable, and juridically proven. For a person in temporary vows, the causes need not even be this grave. However, the same conditions apply otherwise.

If the process is begun because of a good cause, canon 697 sets out the following process: the superior begins to collect or complete proofs of the causes for this action. (In the case of a diocesan hermit this could be their delegate, a Vicar or the Bishop.) The hermit is then warned in writing and in the presence of two witnesses of the causes leading to this intended action. Further, they are given an explicit warning of subsequent dismissal should they not reform their behavior, etc. The person being warned is given a full opportunity for self defense at each step of the way. If, after fifteen days have elapsed the [hermit] has either not made their case or they have failed to change in the ways required, a second written and witnessed warning is given. If necessary, the process is repeated  one more time so that if a person is not able to defend themselves sufficiently or they show themselves to be incorrigible the Bishop may act to dispense the vows. All rights and obligations cease with the granting of the indult. This means that the person may no longer wear religious garb, use titles like Sister or Brother or represent themselves as a Catholic or canonical (diocesan) hermit.

Ordinarily, problems with a hermit's responsible living out of her vows and Rule do not reach this level of course. Hermits meet regularly with delegates and also with their Bishops. Problems of any sort are raised in any of these meetings and solutions are found in a collaborative process. One assumes good faith on each person's part and a sincere desire to protect the eremitical vocation generally and this vocation more specifically. If Vicars, pastors and others can assist in this, they will be asked to do so. But canon 696 refers to: [[ habitual neglect of the obligations of the consecrated life; repeated violations of the sacred bonds, pertinacious disobedience to lawful prescriptions of superiors in a serious matter; grave scandal arising from the behavior of [the hermit]; pertinacious upholding or spreading of doctrines condemned by the magisterium of the Church; public adherence to ideologies infected by materialism or atheism; unlawful absence]] lasting six months, and other serious causes. Again, if the hermit is only in temporary vows the causes need not be as serious as they do in the case of perpetual profession.

I don't really know how often it happens that hermits are dispensed from their vows for grave cause. I think it is far more common that someone temporarily professed is simply not admitted to perpetual profession. (Of course it is even more common that persons who show interest in canon 603 are not admitted to temporary vows or even to a process of formal discernment. A lot of people simply don't know the difference between being a single person living alone and a hermit called to eremitical solitude.) I have heard stories of dispensations from c 603 profession --- one of these just recently, in fact --- but I have no facts about these cases and no idea how common they are.