06 February 2019

Can a Priest Be a Diocesan Hermit in One Diocese/Country and Live As a Hermit Under A Second Bishop in Another Diocese/Country?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I am a priest intending to become a diocesan priest hermit. I will not be living in my own home diocese, however, but will go to a neighboring country. I know that I will have to make profession before the bishop in order to become a proper hermit. I do not intend to change diocese, or become incardinated anywhere else. I will simply be living in another country. The question is this: Can my own bishop give permission to the bishop in the place where I will be living to receive my vows? Is that permitted by Canon Law? It's wonderful to know that there is someone like you willing to help people in these situations. Thank you in anticipation for any help you can give.]]
 
Dear Father, Thanks for your question. It is gratifying that you would write. My understanding is that under c 603 one must live in the diocese in which one is professed. Remember the canon is explicit in this, the hermit makes profession "in the hands of the local bishop". I suspect this language is what prompted your question, but it is for this reason that c 603 hermits are called diocesan hermits. A person may move to another diocese and remain a diocesan hermit if and only if the new bishop agrees to receive his/her vows. When this occurs he becomes the hermit's legitimate superior and also has agreed --- at least in principle --- to be open to discerning and professing other canon 603 vocations in his diocese. (Remember, not all bishops/dioceses have opened themselves to implementing canon 603.)
 
The situation you outline is very different and is, though not intentionally perhaps, capable of being perceived as a way of sidestepping both the stability of the vocation, the sense that this vocation is a gift of God to the local Church, and the ability of either the remote or the local bishop to act effectively as legitimate superior. It could be remarked that the situation you are describing also tends to weaken the ecclesial nature of the vocation and would, at least potentially, set a destructive precedent or at least be unhelpful to those persons in the beginnings of considering or discerning vocations as diocesan hermits.

Let me point out that canonical profession is not needed to be a "proper" hermit. We have lay hermits and priests living as hermits --- both without public vows (and often without private vows either). Canonical vows (part of the larger act the Church recognizes as profession) are needed to live and represent eremitical life as a Catholic Hermit, that is, in the name of the Church. If you wish to live as a hermit your bishop can give you permission to do so; strictly speaking you do not need to be professed as a diocesan hermit under c 603. You could, if you desired, make private vows with your bishop as witness (though he would not be "receiving" these vows in the name of the church; that would require profession under c 603). One problem with this option or the next is that in my experience, bishops are generally very reluctant to give permission to diocesan priests to become hermits; not only does the priest shortage make this difficult but the long period of discernment and preparation in one being admitted to the Sacrament of Orders strongly suggests that, short of a life-changing event or circumstances, eremitical life is contrary to the person's true vocation. 

Difficulties aside, if you wish to be a diocesan hermit, that is, a solitary canonical or solitary Catholic hermit, you could do that by making profession in the hands of your local bishop if he were to give permission; if you wished the second bishop to subsequently receive these vows he would need to agree but at the same time, though you would be a diocesan (Catholic) hermit in the universal Church, your original profession made in your prior diocese would cease to be binding. (In this process, this original profession would have undergone a substantial material change in the condition on which the vows depended and thus they would cease.)

I would think, however, as a matter of true governance (and your own responsibility), this acceptance by the second bishop would require your incardination in the new diocese as well. What I cannot envision is incardination as priest in one diocese and profession (or reception of one's vows) and consequent standing as a diocesan hermit in another. In such a case you would be a single subject attempting to live under the canonical authority of two different bishops and that strikes me as incoherent with neither bishop really having true jurisdiction.

Since I am not a canonist, however, I will refer you to one whom I know and trust with particular expertise with canon 603 but also in matters having to do with ordained and consecrated life more generally. While I believe I have given you accurate information, a second opinion might be of assistance. Meanwhile, I hope my response is helpful both as a direct answer to your question and as a way of thinking further about canon 603 vocations. Whether private or public commitment, whichever option you choose, I wish you good luck in your journey to/in eremitical life!

N.B. The canonist commented on the above question and essentially noted that it was a matter of jurisdiction and that a priest could not be bound in obedience to two different bishops in two different dioceses. Incardination binds a priest in obedience to the local ordinary; so does canon 603. The first bishop has no jurisdiction over affairs in the second diocese and so, cannot act to delegate authority or give permission in the way described in the question.