06 March 2019

What Happens to You if your Bishop Moves?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, what happens to a diocesan hermit whose bishop is assigned to another diocese or becomes an Archbishop there? I know this happened to you. I read that a canonical hermit's professing bishop remains liable and responsible for supervising and directing (spiritual direction) the hermit even after he leaves a diocese: [[Finally, when the hermit is canonically approved, one can contact that person's bishop who is liable and responsible for supervising and the spiritual direction of said hermit. This is the case, even if the bishop has left the diocese where and in whose hands (so to speak, per CL603), the hermit has professed his or her vows.]] (https://catholichermit.blogspot.com/2019/03/catholic-hermit-handling-hermit-wrong.html)

Thanks for the question. I don't know how common these misunderstandings are; I think this is the second or third time I have written about it (not a problem, of course), but no, this view of the way eremitical profession and mutual ecclesial accountability works for the diocesan hermit and her professing bishop is all wrong. First, a diocesan hermit is professed by the local or diocesan Church in the hands of the local ordinary on behalf of the Universal Church. So, for instance, I made my perpetual vows in the hands of Archbishop Allen Vigneron (then Bishop of the Diocese of Oakland) in Sept 2007. Whatever happens to Archbishop Vigneron subsequently (in this case he moved back to Detroit and was made Archbishop), I remain a "Hermit of the Diocese of Oakland." This also means that whichever bishops follow Archbishop Vigneron as ordinaries of the Diocese of Oakland, they will each become my legitimate superior in turn and assume responsibility for and authority over my vocation as I live that out  --- though the daily exercise of an authority or responsibility that empowers my own accountability usually falls to my delegate (Sister Marietta Fahey, SHF) and (to a much lesser degree at this point) co-delegate (Sister Susan Blomstad, OSF). (The idea of co-delegates is new and we are finding our way here.) Bishops exercise their jurisdiction until they move on to another See (as Bishop Cordileone also did when he became Archbishop of San Francisco.)

Not only is this a matter of jurisdiction under canon law (jurisdiction of a bishop over one's own diocese and subjects), but in entirely human and pragmatic ways it makes little sense to expect a bishop to retain responsibility for supervising a diocesan hermit after that bishop leaves a diocese. How could anyone (hermit or bishop) expect to maintain or grow a relationship in which meaningful authority and mutual accountability are exercised if the bishop  moves (for instance!) to the Archdiocese of Detroit while the hermit remains (for instance!) in the Diocese of Oakland (for the diocesan bishop is accountable for the diocesan's hermit's vocational well-being just as she is accountable to the Church through him)?

Other inaccuracies involve the affirmation that the bishop remains responsible for the hermit's spiritual direction and the notion of liability. In fact a diocesan bishop is rarely if ever a diocesan hermit's spiritual director because of potential clash between internal and external forums (fora). (As legitimate superior the bishop has authority over external matters; the spiritual director deals with matters of conscience and the hermit's inner life which may not be things the hermit can or would normally bring to one's legitimate superior.) This is not a matter of secrecy, much less lack of frankness but rather of ensuring the bishop's ability to act as superior is not muddled with matters better handled by one entirely committed to confidentiality. (Personally I find the separation between internal and external forums can be much less absolute with regard to delegates but this should be discerned; it will depend on the authority granted her and also on how she exercises that authority with regard to the hermit.) Also, as a matter of terminology, Canon 603 refers to the hermit's bishop as "director" but this does not mean "spiritual director"; it means director like "director of formation," "director of novices," "director of juniors," etc., in religious life. In these situations those in formation, etc., will have their own spiritual directors entirely separate from their legitimate superiors or "directors".

As to remaining liable for a hermit's behavior, the statement cited is flat wrong. This is something I have also addressed before (please see other articles on bishop as legitimate superior) but be aware that c 603 hermits sign waivers of liability at perpetual profession which free a diocese of any liability for remuneration (say, in a claim for wages) or costs tied to dimensions of the hermit's life or behavior. It is true that a diocesan bishop is responsible for dealing with the hermit's problems (or problems with the hermit for that matter!) but neither the diocese nor the bishop personally is in any way liable for debts accrued by the hermit, or, should this occur, costs associated with any misbehavior on the hermit's part. This of course does not suggest a bishop will not discipline a hermit if the need ever arises but it does say the diocese and ordinary are not liable for damages or debts if these should ever occur.