04 March 2016

Roman Catholic Solitary Religious Life?

[[Dear Sister, is there a canon in the Roman Catholic Church for solitary religious life? Where can I find it and where can I go to see into pursuing it?]]

Thanks for the questions. Please check recent posts contrasting the Anglican canon 14.3 and the Roman Catholic canon 603 for more detailed coverage of this question. Briefly, no, there is no Roman Catholic canon governing solitary religious life per se. Canon 603 governs solitary eremitical life and those professed under this canon are understood by canonists to be religious (cf below), but the canon and the life it governs is very definitely eremitical. It governs hermits, not merely "solitary religious" as the Anglican canon does. The term "solitary religious life" seems to me otherwise to be an oxymoron since, with the exception of solitary hermits professed and consecrated under c 603 who still live a specifically ecclesial vocation in the heart of the Church (and who would betray their vocation if they did not), religious life is communal.

The observation by canonist Ellen O'Hara, csj regarding those individuals professed and consecrated under canon 603: [[The term "religious" now applies to individuals with no relationship to an institute. Groups could use the category association of the faithful to have ecclesiastical identity if they wish,]]** honors the entirely excep-tional nature of this designation in this specific case. Otherwise there is no canon in Roman Catholicism which would allow for "solitary religious". That is an Anglican category, and one I am told was meant to fill a gap in canon law as the Church moved toward a way of recognizing actual solitary hermits. Unfortunately, as I have written before, because it lacks any specific vision of eremitical life which would define life under this canon, it mistakes the notion (or at least contributes to the common mistake) that merely living alone is the same as being a hermit.

I can't direct you to a non-existent canon of course. Though your questions don't seem to lead in this direction, let me note that if you have any interest in eventually being professed as a solitary hermit under c 603 you should try living as a lay hermit according to the vision of eremitical life provided by c 603. If you can do this for a period of time (several years) and find that personally and spiritually you thrive in it, you might then contact your local chancery to inquire about admission to profession and eventually, consecra-tion, under c 603. (Please note, in case some readers might consider moving to the Anglican (Episcopal) Confession to seek profession under canon 14.3, it is unlikely that any bishop there would honor such a request.) My sense is that Anglican bishops are relatively cautious in admitting to profession in this way (perhaps growing more cautious over time) and would not be open to professing someone changing ecclesial affiliations in this variation of "diocese shopping".

** O'Hara, Ellen, CSJ, Handbook of Canons 573-746, "Norms common to all Institutes for Consecrated Life" p 55. Editors Jordan Hite, TOR, Sharon Holland, IHM, and Daniel Ward, OSB.