15 March 2015

More on Bonds, Impediments to New Bonds, and the Catechism vs Canon Law

 [[Dear Sister, you haven't said much about impediments to consecrated life, but it seems to me that private vows, which can be taken by anyone at any time cannot initiate the person into consecrated life automatically. What would happen if a person had been married, divorced, and never granted an anullment but then made private vows as a hermit? They would not be allowed to make a canonical profession because of the prior marriage; it would stand as an impediment wouldn't it?]]

Yes, if the marriage was valid and occurred between two baptized Christians, then you are right; you make a really good point which, as you say, I have not discussed much. Namely, admission to the consecrated state of life requires a certain freedom from other obligations or bonds. For instance c 645.1  notes that, "Before they are admitted to the novitiate, candidates [in an institute of consecrated life] must show proof of baptism, confirmation, and free status." Thus, ipso facto, it is true that one needs such proof prior to actual profession despite the fact this is not listed in the requirements for profession. While candidates for c 603 profession may have been married and divorced they must still fulfill the requirement of proof of free status before being admitted to profession, whether temporary or perpetual. This is in accordance with c 645.1 despite the fact the hermit is not entering an institute of consecrated life.

One of the reasons the Church does her own due diligence in this matter and secures baptismal certificates, etc, is not only to make sure a person is truly a Catholic, but to make sure there are no bonds which would constitute impediments to the establishment of the bonds of consecrated life or the related assumption of canonical rights and obligations. You see, when one is baptized, other sacraments of initiation, sacramental marriages, professions, consecrations, dispensations from public commitments, ordinations, divorce decrees and decrees of nullity, etc are added to the same register. (A record of these is sent to one's baptismal Church and these are added to one's baptismal record. They are also recorded on the back of any copies of certificates which are later sent to authorities requesting these, say prior to profession, etc. --- or to the individual requesting one).

But if one has been validly married, divorced, and never been granted a decree of nullity, for instance, they are not considered free to enter the consecrated state of life any more than they are considered free to marry again. The marriage bond between two baptized Christians serves as an impediment because, despite civil divorce, in terms of the Church's theology, the marital bond established in the exchange of vows still exists unless a decree of nullity establishes this is not the case. (c.1085) It makes no sense for the Church to teach that her own theology, canonical structures, procedures, and safeguards regarding public states of life in the Church can be circumvented merely by the making of an entirely private vow or vows. Thus, while one blogger insists that paragraph 920-921's location in the Catechism of the Catholic Church under the major heading "The Consecrated Life" allows her to argue that she is a consecrated hermit despite her lack of canonical standing as such, you can see that, hypothetically speaking, had she been married and divorced without benefit of a decree of nullity, for instance, she would actually not even be free to enter the consecrated state of life. If she then made private vows despite a lack of decree of nullity (which she is free to do),  they would be entirely valid but they would not initiate her into consecrated life --- even if they were capable of doing so otherwise (which they are not).  

I am not particularly knowledgeable about other impediments to consecration under c 603 besides insufficient age, except that one cannot have been professed in an institute of consecrated/religious life without also having those vows either expired if temporary or dispensed in any case. (Some religious become c 603 hermits after obtaining an indult of exclaustration and then of departure which end (or take effect) on the day of their profession under c 603. (They cannot ALSO profess under canon 603 because they are already bound in law to other legitimate superiors, other proper law than their own Rule, etc.) They are thus freed of one bond while another is created simultaneously.) This would not have been possible prior to canon 603 which is why the dozen monks who came under the protection of Bishop Remit de Roo were required to be laicized and secularized.

In any case, any person at any time can make private vows of many sorts including those of poverty, chastity, and obedience (the meaningfulness and prudence of obedience is another question), but one can never argue these initiate the person into the consecrated state. The Church insists that initiation into the consecrated state occurs canonically which therefore requires the candidate be 'vetted' so to speak; this is meant to ensure one is truly free to enter the consecrated (state of) life as well as allowing a subsequent process of discernment concluding that one is truly called to do so. If one is not, then the bond supposedly being established in profession and consecration as well as the grace necessary for living the life will never be realized or received. The profession and consecration would be invalid. In any case one claiming to be consecrated while still bound  in some way by the former definitive commitment of marriage would be living a life of pretense --- hardly edifying for the People of God!

Perhaps if I tweaked the other poster's argument a bit it would make things clearer. Let's say a person is happily married and desires to make private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience (all baptised persons are to live some version of these evangelical counsels though most do so without additional vows) --- something, as you also note, they are free to do at any time. When they do this, would they also become initiated into consecrated life? Why not?  Yet one blogger continues to argue that  private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience mean a person leaves the married state or that these private vows obviate the need for a decree of nullity. They may well be incompatible with one's married state depending on how they are conceived but private vows simply do not work this way. Private vows (that is, any vow not received by the Church "in the hands" of a legitimate superior acting in the name of the Church)  neither initiate one into the consecrated state of life nor do they cause a person to leave it or any other state of life.

Paragraphs 920-921 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The placement of cc 920-921 under the major heading "The Consecrated Life" in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is and remains problematical unless we 1) realize the CCC is not binding in legislative ways (it is not a code of laws though it may describe these) and does not circumvent nor have priority over canon law in such matters; any confusion is clarified by Canon Law which DOES have the authoritative say in these matters, 2) unless we begin to treat these paragraphs as though they don't apply to hermits in the lay state at all (which would be something of a pity), and 3) unless we understand that these paragraphs do not fit precisely ONLY under the major heading "The Consecrated Life" and thus suffer from some of the ambiguities which affect the rest of this section of the CCC as outlined by JMR Tillard, OP, in his chapter on this in the Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "The Church".

It actually would not have made editorial sense for the CCC to place the identical summary paragraphs on the characteristics of eremitical life in both a section on the laity or lay vocation and one on the consecrated life, much less once again in a section on clergy. Yet canon 603 was new and groundbreaking introducing a new form of consecrated life; it thus made sense to locate these paragraphs under the heading "The Consecrated Life" while allowing them to be edifying to hermits in any appropriate state of life. Again, what remains the case is that who belongs to consecrated life and how they are initiated into it are  matters for Canon Law to clarify since it has the legislative priority over the CCC's pedagogical role. When a legal argument is put forward based on a reading of the Catechism but that argument flies in the face of canonical distinctions and requirements in this matter, that argument must fall. As I have noted here before, and recently as well, for the hermit in the consecrated state (a legal or canonical as well as Divinely instituted  and ecclesially mediated state of life!) the Catechism's paragraphs on the eremitical life are descriptive and edifying. They are not unimportant but again, they are not prescriptive or legislative in the way Canon Law is.

Postscript: A reminder on how decrees of nullity work and do not work.  Recently I heard someone remark something about whether or not her "divorce [had been] nullified by the Church". But this is not the way a decree of nullity works. Decrees of nullity declare publicly and officially that there was no true marriage bond established in the first place. They do not nullify precisely, particularly not a divorce (a civil rather than ecclesiastical reality), so much as they decree that the bond was found to be null or void and therefore, that one is free to enter into other definitive commitments --- like those of religious profession and initiation into the consecrated state, ordination, or marriage itself.

When one applies for a decree of nullity (far from being nullified a civil divorce is first required) the Church through a marriage tribunal weighs all the evidence submitted; one canon lawyer works as "defender of the bond" and thus presents (or at least argues) all of the reasons a true bond can be said to have existed and not be declared null (if the marriage between two Christians is valid the bond is presumed to have existed and still exist; the reasons to declare the bond null must be compelling). The other side is also presented and the tribunal comes to a conclusion. In some cases a decree of nullity is granted and in others the sacramental marriage bond is held to stand in spite of civil divorce.