19 July 2016

Consecrated Catholic Hermit on Vashon Island?

[[Dear Sister,
      Is there a consecrated Catholic hermit living on either Vashon or Maury Island (they are physically connected in case you don't know these places) in WA? We have someone representing themselves in this way in our parish and the question about authenticity or legitimacy has been raised. Thank you.]]

Hi there. I responded to a similar question regarding the Archdiocese of Seattle a while back (and, though I had forgotten this, it also asked about Vashon Island specifically).  This post can be found here Diocesan Hermits in the Ardiocese of Seattle? Before I say more about Vashon Island specifically I would suggest you read that post because although the information I provide there is a bit more general than I will provide below, if you have concerns about someone falsely representing themselves as a Catholic Hermit or a consecrated Catholic Hermit in your parish my advice in that post is the same as I would give you today --- especially about speaking directly with the person themselves first to hear their story and ecclesial status.

However if you are merely concerned with whether there is a consecrated Catholic hermit on Vashon Island, please feel free to confirm the following general information with the Archdiocese. (In fact I urge you to do so.) This is not the first time the question has been asked and my information is slightly dated --- it is about 7 months old now --- but as of December 2015 there were no solitary consecrated Catholic hermits (meaning diocesan or c. 603 hermits) living on either Vashon or Maury Islands (I assume "Vashon Island" sometimes is used to refer to both islands together; in any case, the Roman Catholic Church has no consecrated hermits living there). That said there are several lay hermits living in the Archdiocese of Seattle that I know of. One of these (s/he would be a dedicated lay hermit if s/he has made private vows of some sort) may live on either Vashon or Maury Island. That person would be a Catholic and a hermit but would not be a "Catholic Hermit" nor a "consecrated Catholic Hermit". The Archdiocese also has one male diocesan (consecrated) hermit and I wrote about him briefly in the earlier post.

A Note About Terminology

You see, to repeat something I have discussed many times here, the descriptor "Catholic Hermit" means someone publicly (canonically) professed and  consecrated by the Church to live the eremitical life in her name. The phrase "consecrated Catholic Hermit" is essentially the same term. Both indicate one has been admitted to public profession and consecration by the Church and lives his/her life under the supervision of a legitimate superior. In the case of solitary hermits this will be the local Bishop in accordance with c 603; in the case of religious hermits it will be under the hermit monk or nun's congregation's leadership. There are no other options in the Roman Catholic Church for becoming a consecrated Catholic Hermit. In the case of c 603 (solitary hermits) these persons will always make public profession but they may not always use vows as their means of profession.

Another thing you might want to know is that when I speak of public profession (a clumsy term since there is no such thing as a private profession --- the making of private vows is a dedication, not a profession; all professions are public acts of the Church) this has nothing to do with degrees of notoriety, anonymity, or the essential hiddenness of the vocation. It means that the person has been admitted to profession (always a public act of the Church) and embraced the public rights, obligations, and concomitant expectations associated with such an act and identity. With perpetual (or solemn) profession the person is also consecrated by God through the mediation of the Church in the person of the local Bishop. This means they enter a "stable state of life", namely the consecrated state with Rule, legitimate superior(s), and bonds like vows and other canon law. None of this is true of the person making private vows so if they were a lay person when they made their vows they remain a lay person. We use the word dedicated as opposed to professed or consecrated to describe such a person because their vows were their own private act of dedication. Vatican II referred to the human part of things as dedication and reserved the word consecrate for an act of God since only God can truly make holy or set apart as holy --- even as he does so through the mediation of the Church.

Esteeming All Eremitical Vocations:

It may be you have someone in your parish misusing this language. They should be esteemed if they are living an eremitical life and I would say that is especially true if they are doing so on the basis of private vows and their lay state in the Church. While they are neither a consecrated nor a Catholic Hermit (living eremitical life in the Church's name) and while I believe folks should be clear about the distinction, they should recognize that eremitical vocations of whatever stripe are rare and the support of a parish or other faith community is essential to living it well! Ordinarily a person misusing language or designations like this is doing so out of ignorance and does not mean to mislead. Occasionally the situation is more serious and the person's actions are part of a willful attempt to mislead. In a handful of cases the person misusing the designations "Catholic hermit" or "Consecrated Catholic hermit" may have convinced themselves they are correct despite having been instructed otherwise. These persons remain lay hermits (assuming they are truly living an eremitical life) and absolutely should be respected for this --- just as any other person living their baptismal consecration and dedication to Jesus Christ should be esteemed for doing so --- but at the same time their delusion ought not be indulged. To do so, to fail to regard the very real differences of these vocations in the Church, fails to esteem either lay or consecrated vocations as the important gifts of God to the Church and world they truly are.

Do check with the Archdiocese. If a diocesan (c 603) hermit has moved there since the end of last year they will know because Archbishop Sartain will have agreed to receive their vows to be lived "in his hands" now. (This is a requirement if a diocesan hermit moves to another diocese and wishes to remain a diocesan hermit.) The diocese will freely tell you if the person is a canon 603 hermit in good standing in the diocese but no more than that. (This is part of what it means to have a public vocation) If a hermit from a canonical congregation has moved there they will identify themselves as publicly professed and provide information on their congregation and in whose hands this occurred without any problem. (This, again, is part of what it means to have a public (ecclesial) vocation with public rights and obligations.)