25 February 2016

Rights and Obligations Associated with Public Profession (c 603)

I had a conversation with a friend and diocesan hermit from another country yesterday and we talked about many things with regard to c. 603 vocations including a number which she found important but she also thought they were rarely defined clearly enough for those looking on at the vocation from outside, and sometimes, even for those who staff our chanceries.

A couple of these include, 1) the specific rights and obligations attached to public profession and consecration as a diocesan hermit, and 2) the meaning and import of recording professions and consecrations of such persons not only in the hermit's diocese, but in the baptismal register of her home Church (that is, the Church where she received the Sacraments of initiation or at least that of baptism).  I wanted to list the rights and obligations I am aware of here (though I am certainly apt to miss some!) because too often it happens that non-canonical hermits portray canonical standing as involving a kind of liturgical icing on the cake or unnecessary legalism rather than something making a substantive difference in the vocation. (Please also see, What Specifically does the Church hold you Responsible For? for a related discussion.) I also wanted to say a little more about the import of recording canonical professions and consecrations since it is significant that one's profession and/or consecration is included in one's Sacramental record whenever one proposes to make a commitment effecting a change in one's state of life --- something untrue of private commitments and acts of dedication. A third topic I will come back to in another post is the significance of making one's profession "in the hands of " the bishop because this is important for both the hermit and all subsequent bishops under whose direction she will live her life thereafter.

Canonical Rights and Obligations associated with c 603 Profession and Consecration:

* The right to be known as a consecrated (canonical) hermit with an ecclesial vocation which one lives "in the name of the Church." By this I mean one is consecrated by God through the public mediation of the Church and commissioned to represent the eremitical tradition in the name of the Church. (She does NOT consecrate herself!) A canonically consecrated hermit maintains this right even when her diocese gets a new Bishop or ceases to profess c 603 hermits for one reason or another.

* (When granted by one's bishop) the right to style oneself as Sister or Brother, to wear a religious habit, to wear a cowl or other prayer garment in public once perpetually professed. Note well, this does NOT include the right to wear a recognizable habit associated with a specific Order or Congregation. No Bishop may give permission to wear a Franciscan, Dominican, Carthusian, or similar habit and no diocesan hermit can assume such a habit on their own initiative.

* (When granted by one's bishop) the right to reserve the Eucharist in one's own hermitage and to have a priest celebrate Mass there occasionally. (This comes with correlative obligations regarding how and where one reserves the Sacrament, maintaining a living connection to the faith community from which the Eucharist comes, etc.)

* The right to establish oneself (or one's hermitage) as a 501.c.3 or according to other tax exemption provisions, depending upon country. (Lay or non-canonical hermits do not have this right.) This means that one is recognized in civil law as well as in canon law as having a public vow of poverty and an ecclesial vocation.

*The right, in the case of serious concerns regarding the way she is living her vows, etc, to appeal any canonical actions (censure, dispensation) undertaken by her diocese. While this is a right few hermits ever need to exercise, because her profession and consecration are canonical, she is protected from arbitrary or precipitous actions on the part of others. Just as canon law defines and governs her vocation so too does canon law protect the hermit's public commitments and standing by providing for due canonical process.


* One is obliged morally and in law to live one's Rule under penalty of sin against religion.

* One is obliged to publicly represent the c 603 vocation with integrity even if this is mainly done in eremitical hiddenness. Since one's profession is public the Church as a whole has a right to expect this as a sign of authentic Gospel witness and the Lordship of Christ. Others have a right to see an authentic representative of a public vocation in the Church and to expect of them all that is appropriate in public witness.

* One is obliged both morally and in law to give the whole of one's life to this vocation. It is not part time and even one's residence is given over to the requirements of the vocation --- meaning one provides appropriate hospitality should someone request it, but in this and every other way, the hermitage is just that and nothing else. While a hermit lives an essentially hidden life and certainly has matters which remain private, she is a public consecrated person and this she is full time. This will necessarily constrain the kinds of activities in which she may participate, the relationships and time for these she will have, the degree of socializing she will do, etc. She is obliged, especially to be aware of the witness she gives to the God who redeems the isolated and marginalized in the silence of solitude.

* One is obliged by many of the canons which apply to any religious with public vows of the evangelical counsels and a life centered on Christ. Similarly she is obliged to participate in ongoing formation, spiritual direction, annual or bi-annual retreat (as possible), and continuing education in any areas which bear directly on her vocation.

* One is obliged to live her life under the supervision of the bishop and in religious obedience to him. This ordinarily means she meets annually with him unless there is a specific need which calls for a more immediate meeting. A similar situation may extend to a diocesan delegate who serves both the Bishop and the hermit and with whom she meets more frequently. This differs from one's relationship with a spiritual director with whom there is no legal or even moral obligation to religious obedience. (Similarly the diocesan bishop assumes the role of legitimate superior and is obligated to assist the hermit in the faithful living out of her vocation by virtue of the hermit's public (canonical) profession and consecration. The delegate serves as a "quasi-superior".)

* The canonical hermit is responsible for her own upkeep, insurance, rent, etc. (I am including this here only as a reminder that the Church is in no way obligated to assist the hermit in these ways.) Moreover, she is obligated to maintain herself in a way which is entirely compatible with and assists in her living eremitical life. Some treat this as a criterion of discernment for the diocesan hermit; I am not sure this can be asserted since the obligation is no where written in law. Still, at this point in time those who cannot maintain themselves will not be admitted to profession and consecration under c 603.

* If the hermit proposes to move to another diocese and wishes to remain in public vows and the consecrated state of life, she must get the permission of the bishop of the diocese to which she proposes to move and his agreement to accept her vows to be lived "in his hands" as well as being "excardinated" from her diocese of profession. (In other words, both dioceses must be involved, the first to certify the hermit is a canon 603 hermit in good standing -- which may include a statement by the Bishop and a copy of the affidavit (testimonial) given to the hermit on the day of her perpetual profession testifying to her public profession and consecration -- and the second to allow for her "incardination" into the new diocese.)

N.B., As I have written here before, while the hermit's consecration is a mediated act of God which cannot be undone, she can leave the consecrated state of life. When we speak of a state of life we are speaking of a stable state marked by legal obligations and rights as well as by legally established relationships which govern, support, and characterize the vocation. Leaving one's state of life means leaving behind the legal rights, obligations, and relationships. Thus if one moves from one diocese to another without the participation of the originating diocese and especially without the acceptance of the receiving Bishop, the hermit effectively leaves the consecrated state. In such a case her vows will be dispensed either by a formal act of the first diocese or will cease to be binding or valid because of a material change in the terms of her profession (no formal dispensation may be necessary); her home diocese will notify her (and the new diocese!!) of the fact that she is no longer a consecrated hermit under c 603.

* A hermit professed under canon 603 is obliged to make a will valid in civil law usually before temporary vows but certainly before perpetual profession. Besides its practical function, this underscores the public nature of the hermit's commitment and the all-encompassing ecclesial dimension of her vocation..

Recording Professions and Consecrations in the Baptismal Record of the Home Church:

It may not be well known but all public professions, consecra-tions, ordinations, and marriages (or decrees of nullity and dispen-sations of vows) are recorded in the diocese where they occur and in the home parishes of those involved. Whenever one requests a baptismal certificate from one's home parish --- something that is necessary whenever one is admitted to the other Sacraments of initiation in another parish, for instance, a public profession, consecration or the sacrament of Orders or Matrimony --- it will include all instances of canonical vows, Sacramental marriage, decrees of nullity, dispensations, Holy Orders (e.g., permanent diaconate, transitional diaconate, priesthood, episcopacy) or laicization the individual has also made or received. (I'm pretty sure ferendae sententiae excommunications and other formal penalties or interdictions will be similarly recorded but perhaps someone will correct me if I am mistaken.)

This occurs because these either represent instances in which the persons are initiated into new states of life with legal rights, and obligations which also establish impediments to entering other states of life; alternately they involve acts where the Church reduces one from these states depriving that person of commensurate rights and obligations. When a person must prove they are free to undertake a public commitment and enter into a new state of life, when they must demonstrate that there are no impediments to receiving a Sacrament (e.g., Eucharist, Orders or Matrimony) or to be admitted to a religious institute or to consecration under cc 603 or 604, the person's baptismal register provides much of the necessary information. (Additional information will be available in dioceses or parishes where related records are also kept.)

By way of clarification, note that none of this is necessary for lay or non-canonical hermits making private vows or other private dedication since such commitments do not change the person's state of life nor create impediments to admission to public vows (profession), consecration, marriage, and so forth. It may certainly be unwise for a married person to live as a hermit with private vows; still, it is not something that involves the Church in the way public vows do. Moreover, while the dispensation of public vows may include significant conversations with one's director, delegate and Bishop before the hermit legally petitions for and is granted dispensation (or is required by her diocese to be dispensed), the dispensation of private vows may be granted by a simple act by one's pastor, a bishop, or anyone who has been granted this  authority. Likewise, because private vows are private in every sense of this term, a hermit living her vows badly will not lead to the dispensation of these vows or other ecclesiastical action or censure on the part of the Church. Her example may be disedifying but will not involve the local or universal Church in canonical censure or penalty.