22 December 2014

May a Diocese take a "More Private Path" to Consecrating Hermits?

Dear Sister O'Neal, I am confused by something I read online about hermits and private consecrations. You have given the impression that if a Bishop receives a person's vows as a hermit, he will do so under canon 603. You have also said that c 603 is a universal law which replaces any specific diocesan statutes on eremitical life locally. Is it possible for a diocese to decide not to go along with canon 603 but to use private vows instead? What I read is this: [[ I also respect the reasons and desires for those who God wills to have very private consecrations, even if their Bishops have received their vows privately or held by designes [sic, designees] in the Diocese. God and each hermit, and each hermit's Bishop and spiritual guides, ascertain the chosen path, through God's will. . . . My Diocese takes more the private route, and this is not that they do not go along with Church law which provides for a public profession. Their view of hermit life is that of the more private path. I am in this Diocese, and I have no need to move to find one that is otherwise; both forms are valid and credible.]]

There are some inaccuracies and possibly even attempts at misdirection in what you have cited so let me try to clarify the basic choices in front of a diocese and candidates for eremitical life. First, there are four options for such a person: 1) publicly professed and consecrated (canonical) eremitical life in community (semi-eremitism), 2) publicly professed and consecrated (canonical) solitary eremitical life under canon 603, 3) privately dedicated eremitical life whether in a non-canonical community or as a solitary lay hermit, and 4) solitary lay hermit without private vows or dedication.These four options include two public eremitical vocations (one solitary and one communal) and two private eremitical vocations (one with private vows and one without). A diocese per se ONLY deals with public or canonical professions and consecrations. Private acts of dedication do NOT involve the diocese per se.

Given this basic outline, I understand the confusion you experienced. You see, what you quote makes it sound like the Church consecrates hermits and does so either publicly or privately. It seems to be saying there are two routes to consecrated eremitical life in the Church and that dioceses may choose one or the other. But this is simply not the case. If one is consecrated as a hermit (that is, initiated into the consecrated state as a hermit with an ecclesial vocation) it will ALWAYS occur at a public (that is, a canonical) rite of perpetual profession and consecration. If there is no public rite, and the vows are a private act of devotion and dedication, then one does not become a consecrated person in the church nor a religious or religious hermit. One (presumably) remains called by God to live their eremitical life as a lay person witnessing to the richness of lay life (which also specifically and assuredly resonates with the spirit of the desert elders of the 4-6th centuries) in the Church.

A lot of the confusion in the above quoted passage is rooted in the use and misuse of the term "private". While the common meaning has to do with lack of notoriety, when we are speaking of vows as private we mean vows which do not imply the extension of legal (canonical)  rights and obligations to the candidate beyond those of baptism. These would be private vows and a private act of the individual. The Church as such neither approves nor disapproves such actions per se. When we are speaking of a public profession we are referring to vows via which the Church extends additional legal rights and obligations to the candidate which are assumed by her in her profession.  Private vows do NOT involve the extension or assumption of legal rights. Public vows do. There can be lots of notoriety or none at all. This does not change the nature of the profession. Perhaps the following will make some of this clearer. Let's say, for instance, that a diocese wants to profess and consecrate someone in a country where this ecclesial action  could get that person killed or otherwise make them a target for persecution; in such a case, the rite of profession might be held privately (that is, quietly and without notoriety) but it remains a PUBLIC (canonical) RITE of profession and consecration. 

In other words. to speak of public vows is to mean the persons professed become "public persons" in the Church and representatives of the consecrated (and religious) state even if this is lived out in hiddenness. (Hermits do so with the eremitical life.) With private vows or the dedication of self (popularly referred to as consecrating oneself) no new state of life is assumed nor are the correlative legal rights and obligations which are part and parcel of a new state. The reference to "those whom God wishes to have very private consecrations"  confuses public in the sense of notoriety (or that which is contrary to hiddenness) and public in the canonical sense of "assuming public rights and obligations".

Thus a person who claims their diocese wants to use a more private route than canonical (public) profession in an attempt to suggest they choose their consecrated hermits to be more hidden has either got something wrong somewhere or is trying to obscure the difference between lay and consecrated vocations. A diocese wishing to have only lay hermits (that is, no consecrated solitary or diocesan hermits)  may well decide it is unwise to profess anyone at all under canon 603 but this means they simply allow individuals to pursue eremitical life privately and as lay persons. No diocesan approval or permission is implied in such a case. The lay hermit is doing privately what she has every right to do as a Catholic lay person. Similarly, the use of the term "private consecrations" is also mistaken. The proper term is "dedications". If a diocese decides there will be no public professions and consecrations under canon 603, then private dedications which the person makes herself are the only option. These are not consecrations in the sense that public rites of consecration are because with a private dedication one does not enter another stable state of life; again such acts of dedication are an entirely private matter which do not involve the Church in the public mediation of the call; neither do these result in the individual's profession, consecration by God, or any associated assumption of legal rights and obligations --- which are always publicly mediated by the Church.

To summarize: While some dioceses may refuse to use c 603 yet, NO dioceses as such takes "the more private path" because there is no "more private path" for a diocese as such TO take. Either a diocese will profess persons they discern are called to this canonically (publicly) or they will not do so at all. Those who are not admitted to public (canonical) profession may make private vows and live eremitical life privately. Private vows are always the act of an individual acting independently of the diocese per se. It is an important dedication of self but it is one in which the person is not initiated into the consecrated state nor does one's Bishop (or one's spiritual director) choose this for the person or give one permission for this.