13 July 2015
Thanks for your questions. The simplest answer re the canonical standing of the person in question is to ask her! That is always the first step. If this is somehow inadequate or is impossible, then the next step is to contact the local parish and see if they know the answer. Finally, you can call the chancery and ask them if there is a consecrated (c 603) hermit living on Vashon Island. If you know the person by name they will tell you whether she is a diocesan hermit and usually whether she is in good standing with the diocese, but they are not going to give you any further details regarding the person if they know her at all. If they ask if there are problems just let them know you merely want to verify the person's canonical standing unless (as you seem to imply) there is something more involved.
The Archdiocese of Seattle has at least one diocesan hermit that I know of. But he is male; his name is Brother Jerry Cronkhite and he was professed on May 14, 2012 in the Cathedral of St James. I mention this to indicate that the Archdiocese HAS used canon 603 and therefore are clearly open to doing so. Some have tried to argue that some dioceses choose "the private route" rather than c 603, so I want to underscore this argument is especially specious in this case. I know of two lay hermits either in Seattle or the Tacoma area close by Vashon Island. Still, for information on diocesan hermits (solitary consecrated hermits) your best source is the chancery. We diocesan hermits in the US are a small 'community' and a small number of those do belong to the Network of Diocesan Hermits, but I doubt any one of us knows all or even most of the others. (By the way, there is no central data base on c 603 hermits. Rome has begun keeping statistics on us but at this point it is only the individual dioceses that have the information on those professed in the hands of local Bishops.)
The conclusion and accusation that one is a "fake hermit" is a serious one. The charge ought not be leveled without real cause. While the term Catholic Hermit is authoritatively used by hermits with public vows and consecrations to indicate they live as hermits in the name of the Church, there are a handful of lay hermits (hermits in the lay state of life) who use the descriptor without having been authorized to do so. Some simply don't realize what they are doing is inappropriate. The person you are speaking of may well be a lay Catholic and hermit with or without private vows. The lay eremitical life, when lived authentically, is an entirely valid way to live eremitical life within the Church; it simply means the baptized person is living a private commitment in the lay state. She is not a religious (though she may be discerning admission to canon 603 with the diocese) and cannot claim to be living the eremitical life in the name of the Church. Still such a hermit lives her life as a Catholic lay person and represents a significant and living part of the eremitical tradition. Such a calling is to be esteemed.
By the way, one final possibility exists. You asked if Catholic hermits and canonical hermits are the same thing and the answer is yes. All Catholic hermits are canonical and live their vocation in the name of the Church. But some of these are solitary (c 603) and others belong to canonical communities (institutes). If the hermit you are speaking about belongs to a canonical community but is, for some valid reason, living on her own (say, on exclaustration while trying the eremitical vocation, for instance), then she will tell you what community she is professed with and be able to name her legitimate superior. (If she is lay person or former religious working with the Archdiocese to discern a vocation to canonical eremitism then she will tell you that too.) Again, while one should not pry, public vocations are just that and religious are answerable for these. Her identity, if she claims to be publicly professed, shouldn't be a secret, especially if she wishes to be known as a hermit. Similarly one shouldn't simply contact the chancery for any little thing nor without meaningful justification; however, if you have significant concerns for or about this person, then, presuming you have spoken to the person herself first to clarify matters, you can raise those with her legitimate superior or with Archbishop Sartain or the Vicar for Religious in the Archdiocese at the same time.
So, to summarize, in your situation the simplest way to determine if the hermit in question is a canonical hermit and thus too, a Catholic Hermit who lives her life in the name of the Church, is to ask her whether she is a lay hermit (perhaps but not necessarily privately vowed or dedicated) or publicly professed and consecrated; if she says the latter then you may ask her who her legitimate superior is. Diocesan hermits will always name the local diocesan Bishop as their legitimate superior for their vows were made in his hands. FYI, it will not be a Bishop in another diocese, nor will it be another priest, or a spiritual director (even if this is a bishop), for instance. Nor, again, will a canonical hermit ever tell you her diocese doesn't require legitimate superiors or has chosen to go the "private route." If the diocese has not used canon 603 yet (again, not applicable to the Archdiocese of Seattle since they have at least one c 603 hermit) and the person has private vows they are NOT made under the auspices of the diocese per se. If questions or serious concerns remain turn to the parish and if necessary, to the chancery itself. Ask to speak to the Vicar for Religious (or the Vicar for Consecrated Life). S/he will certainly know the person if they are a c 603 (publicly professed solitary) hermit.