The Diocesan Hermit: Some Considerations

JEANNE LEBERby Mother Therese Ivers, JCD (cand), OCV, DHS

“Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything!”

In the early centuries of the Church, men and women fled to the desert as the Church’s first hermits.  Christianity had become the official religion of the empire, and as a result of external prosperity and growth, Christian praxis became lax in the cities.  Virgins, hermits, and ascetics grew in numbers to fill the vacuum of those intent on a life devoted to the sole focus on the service of Christ in a life of perfect chastity lived in the manner of their respective calling.

It should be noted that these were hard-core practicing Catholics who were familiar with their faith and extremely familiar with those things “in the world” that could distract them from their focus.  In today’s language, we would say that these men and women were “well catechized” or “well formed”.  

Hermits were no exception to the general quality of being “well catechized”.  Nevertheless, not all were prepared for life in the desert or to the specific challenges of their calling.  As a result, “mentors” naturally arose when hermits of great fame for holiness began to accept followers in their lifestyle.  Likewise, hermits began to gather together at times for communal exercises albeit infrequently.  How else would we know the doings of various hermits through the sayings of the Hermit fathers and mothers?


Some clusters of hermits (many lived at great geographical distance from each other but could be considered a “cluster” or “group”) eventually self organized and consolidated into proper monasteries.  Others retained their proper eremitcal character which consisted of individual hermits who lived their own very distinctive lifestyles who occasionally met up with one or more hermits.  Clusters of such individuals came to be known as “lauras”.

Today, we have two forms of individual consecrated life in the Latin Church.  One is that of hermits (canon 603) and the other, the portion of the order of virgins (canon 604) who are not also members of a religious institute.  There are many myths about both forms of life, which have arisen for many reasons, particularly because of a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the vocation to be a hermit or to be a spouse of Christ respectively.  The purpose of this article is to discuss some aspects of the eremitic vocation that is not always clear to those who are not cognizant of this vocation.

Individual Life Lived “In the Silence of Solitude” is the Primary Reality or Framework Designated by Canon. 603

As some people are aware, my original proposal for my doctoral dissertation in canon law was centered on the “Silence of Solitude” aspect of canon 603.  It encapsulates the solitary lifestyle which is permeated with the mental and physical silence required for the “desert” substitution which provides the backdrop of the intense grappling of the soul with itself and heavenly -and not so heavenly- things.  

Solitude, or a “stricter withdrawal from the world” is not a mere metaphor.  It requires a similitude to the desert in which an individual is not rubbing shoulders with people on a daily basis [with the exception, perhaps of attendance at daily Mass if this is called for in the hermit’s rule].  Encounters with people should be infrequent, even in the running of a guest house, which should have periods of unoccupancy to facilitate the solitude of the hermit manager.

This is not a “religious of one” paradigm in which a hermit is free to do apostolic activity willy nilly.  On the contrary, the lay hermit (or diocesan hermit) is expected to be extremely withdrawn from the everyday hustle and bustle of the world.  This includes apostolic works. 

Some individuals imagine that they can live as a “caretaker” for someone else and live authentically as a hermit.  Again, this is simply not the case.  Caring for another person on a daily or frequent basis goes against the solitary nature of this vocation.  But it is compatible for reasons of age or illness for the lay or diocesan hermit to be cared for, as there is a profound difference between caring for another in their daily necessities and being cared for in daily necessities when one is unable to do so. 

The implication for a “laura” is also clear.  That it is not the responsibility of individual hermits living in a laura (inside their individual hermitages) to administrate long-term care for an elderly or chronically ill fellow-hermit, and that provisions must have already been made and executed for the long term care of such hermits in appropriate facilities or with relatives [ideally Catholic].

A Word on Lauras

Although it is possible for diocesan hermits to gather together in a geographic place, a laura is intended to be strictly distinct from a religious eremitic or semi-eremitic institute.  Here are some of the key differences:

Religious Institute Laura
Common Superior to whom obedience is vowed who is not the bishop Obedience directly to the bishop as superior is professed
Common purse; the institute is jointly responsible for the wellbeing of the religious from the day of entrance until their deaths. Each individual hermit has their own bank account, retirement funds, health care and other insurances, and is expected to manager their finances individually.  The individual hermit is expected to be independent regardless of whether they stay in a laura all their life, leave of their own accord, or are asked to leave.
Common rule of life Individual rule of life that has been lived outside of the laura and which will be observed before, during [and even after] life in a laura
Meals in common.  Meals are eaten together in a refectory or at the same time in the hermitage. Generally meals should be taken alone and within the cell even if cooked for the whole laura.  What is eaten, how it is eaten, and when it is eaten will be autonomously decided by the individual hermit.
Communal Office or synchronized hours designated at common times [e.g. the horarium is the same for every individual even if the office is said alone in the hermitage such as in a Carthusian charterhouse] The individual hermit recites the liturgical hours or other prayers [non-cleric hermits are not obligated to say the liturgy of the hours and may in fact choose other forms of prayer to occupy their time] within the hermitage.  This prayer-cycle is individualized for the growth of the hermit and therefore is highly  unlikely to be synchronized with other hermits.

A laura, is in short, a temporary living arrangement of independent diocesan/lay hermits who maintain their own rule of life, finances, hermitage, etc. on a piece of property.  It is not the “ideal” way of living to which a canon 603 hermit “aspires” but is merely an arrangement that can be permitted for the good of hermits on an ad hoc and temporary basis [even if such an arrangement de facto lasts decades].  Practically speaking, the numbers of hermits on the property in a laura should be limited as it would become too unwieldy to have over a handful unless the property is vast and perhaps owned in trust by some entity that rents out hermitages.

Canon 603 is not intended to encourage the formation of lauras, but is primarily focused on the actual solitary vocation for which membership in a laura may be a help or a hindrance.  In any and all events, membership in a laura cannot be a condition for profession as a hermit and it must always be the result of a voluntary and seriously discerned path on the part of the experienced and [ideally] already professed hermit who believes it may be of benefit.  

Unfortunately, due to greater familiarity with religious institutes, dioceses may have an incorrect understanding of the difference between a laura and a budding religious institute.  This may cause abuses of canon 603 when a “hermit” is really an aspiring founder/ess of an eremitical or semi-eremitical religious institute.  If the “hermit” really intends to be a religious founder, then the steps for the founding of a religious institute are to be utilized and the “vocation” tested.

As a canonist, I have heard all too often the opinion that the “ideal” hermit is one who has membership in a laura.  To the contrary, I would say that membership in a laura by its very nature would merely be a temporary living situation for a diocesan hermit.  The diocesan hermit cannot escape the hard work of crafting a personal rule of life over the course of several years – I consider the minimum for this to be at least 7-9 years as a prudential measure not unlike the requirement for final profession of contemplatives to have had no less than 9 years of formation reasonable. 

This rule of life cannot be a mere appropriation or light tinkering of existing rule(s) of religious institutes or even that of other hermits.  It must result from experimentation and the self-knowledge of what is helpful for this particular person in his/her struggles in “the desert”.  This hermit must know what a balanced lifestyle for himself looks like and that will not be identical to that of anyone else.

The relationship between the hermit and his/her bishop is a direct one, as the bishop is the lawful superior of the diocesan hermit.  This remains true even in a laura, as the position of hermits in a laura is that of equals among equals.  Any “leadership” position would be only to assist with certain communal exigencies of living on the same property; real authority is not canonically granted.  The diocese continues to have the obligation of furnishing continuing formation and supervision to the individual hermits, whether they belong to lauras or not. 

If a diocese thinks it can “escape” its responsibilities to hermits by abdicating its duties to a fictitious “superior” of a laura, then it is gravely mistaken.  The hermit has the right to direct access to his/her lawful superior who is the bishop, any “delegate” notwithstanding and the bishop has the obligation of knowing the individual hermits in his diocese.

Initial and Continuing Formation of Hermits

The problem faced by hermits today, whether they be in the pre-formation/candidacy stage, initial formation stage, or post-profession stage, is that of formation.  This is a complex reality as “living in the cell” is a large part of the formation process.  But it is not the only part of the process.  For diocesan candidates or hermits, the diocese has an intrinsic and serious responsibility to provide initial and ongoing formation to its hermits. This must be tailored and adapted to the reality that there will be no “companions” or live-in superiors to ensure continued growth of virtue and of wholeness in humanity of the hermit.

The individual hermits themselves have a grave obligation of growing in the practice of virtue, growing in prayer, widening their understanding of sacred scripture, theology, etc.  They also need to be well aware of their own holy patrimony in the Church, and steeped in the mindset of the desert fathers/mothers.

Given the complexity of all that has been said above, the bishop, whose duty it is to carefully discern with those who believe that they may have a vocation to the eremitical life, should consult with true experts on the eremitic vocation.  It is not enough for the people tasked with assisting the bishop in the discernment of eremitic vocations and/or formation to be ordained or possess a diploma in theology [unless their role is to give formation in say liturgy or theology].  Bishops should collaborate with those who actually know the canonical and practical framework of the vocation for viable candidates and those in need of continuing formation.  

Likewise, the eremitical vocation is not a mere matter of the internal forum.  It is a public vocation even if it is lived in solitude and therefore it has a visible framework.  Thus, it is highly inappropriate and a grave abuse to relegate all work with the individual aspiring hermit to the “spiritual director”.  The division between the internal forum and external must be maintained and those entrusted with roles in either must be suitably competent in their area.

While this may sound intimidating, it is the Church’s intent that both parties do their due diligence and not shirk their individual responsibilities.  The bishop has the obligation of authenticating and promoting true vocations to the hermit life and the hermit aspirant has the obligation of discerning and following their vocation even if the diocese refuses to profess hermits for valid or invalid reasons.  Someone called to the silence of solitude will do it regardless of whether the diocese is willing to profess hermits.

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Are Priests Bridegrooms of the Church and the Bl. Virgin Mary?

St. Joseph Holy Spouse of Mary
St. Joseph Holy Spouse of Mary

by Mother Therese Ivers, JCD(Cand), DHS, OCV

The vocation to the priesthood is a sublime one, as the priest is the minister of life-giving sacraments for the people of God. It is a vocation of service, of ministry. A priest is a servant-leader. Starting from the diaconate, which was instituted to help “wait tables”, and among other things, help the widows and the orphans who are the treasure of the Church, the man in holy orders is ordained to follow the complete self-giving of the Lord to the Church.

Recently, there has been a fringe movement to see priests as the “bridegrooms of the Church”. Or, equally appallingly, the bridegrooms of the ever Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. The reasoning goes as follows. Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church. Priests image Christ. Therefore priests are bridegrooms of the Church. And because the archtype of the Church is the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is also the Bride of Christ, the priest is the bridegroom of Mary. The title floating around is “in persona Christi sponsi Ecclesiae” or “in the person of Christ, Bridegroom of the Church”.

This thinking is dangerous, and contrary to the traditional teaching of the Church. It makes the Blessed Virgin Mary into a sexual object, an affective replacement “spouse” for the woman the Latin priest chooses to give up in matrimony in order to receive holy orders. Far from the respect the priest should be paying to the Blessed Virgin as his mother, the mother of his Master, it puts him on an equal footing with the Mother of God. Spouses, after all, enjoy a certain equality. It makes him infinitely presumptuous, to usurp the place of the glorious St. Joseph, chaste spouse of the Virgin Mary, and of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, such a priest would deem himself better than the Apostle John, who honored, revered, and respected the Virgin as his Mother and not as his Bride. Jesus did not entrust the Virgin to John as Bride, but as Mother. John, a bishop, an Apostle, was to respect, honor, and care for the Virgin as Mother, not as his equal.

A priest is a servant of Christ, a disciple of Christ. In the Latin Church, he willingly gives up marriage to serve as the “friend of the Bridegroom”. A servant or friend does not presume to fancy himself the bridegroom himself. He honors the Bridegroom by serving the Bridegroom in precisely that capacity as friend or disciple. He does not presume to usurp the Bridegroom’s place.  The priest serves the Church, anticipating the wants of the Bridegroom and Bride.  How does the Divine Bridegroom desire his services to serve the Bride?

It is well known that an image has its limitations. A portrait can be said to be an image of someone. But it lacks life, intelligence, a heart beat, etc. Just as an image of a human can lack many important characteristics of the human being, so too can the image of Christ the Eternal Priest lack as well. A good place to start would be the sacrament of the diaconate. The deacon does not mirror or image or share in the facet of Christ as “head” of the Church (in persona Christi capitis). This is an important clarification that the Church has recently made. So if the deacon, although he images Christ in service, does not in headship, is it too great a leap to believe that a special, intimate aspect of Christ is not shared with priests and bishops, namely, that of being Bridegroom to the Church?

As St. Thomas well put it centuries ago, squashing the idea that holy orders makes a priest/bishop a bridegroom of the Church:

In the reception of Holy Orders someone is not consecrated as a bridegroom, but as the minister of the bridegroom; and so virginity is not required for signifying the integrity of spiritual matrimony, as it is required in the veiling of the woman who is consecrated as the bride. Sent. D. 38 A.5. R. 3.

Any participation of priests/bishops in Christ’s relation to the Church as Bridegroom is very remote, because marriage is not an essential element of holy orders.  This is why there are married priests.  This is why bishops, although they receive a ring entrusting the Church to their care, can move dioceses, meaning that they are not actually married to the local Church (otherwise, such a move would be adulterous or divorce-like).

There is suggestion that the “evangelical counsels” or “celibacy” inserts a man deeper into the so-called bridegroom dimension of human priests. This cannot be, because neither the evangelical counsels nor celibacy constitute matrimony, spiritual or otherwise. This is a common misconception, based no doubt on the popular idea that the evangelical counsels somehow constitute a human being into a bride of Christ in religious life. But it doesn’t. In fact, St. Thomas links spiritual matrimony not with celibacy but virginity, specifically, virginity that has been “veiled” or consecrated by the bishop, who, incidentally, acts as the “friend of the Bridegroom”, not the Bridegroom himself. In other words, St. Thomas is talking about the solemn liturgical consecration of virgins, found in the Roman Pontifical, in which a female (and he says only a female qualifies to be a Bride of Christ), is elevated to the sublime dignity of being a Bride of Christ.

The Blessed Virgin is not the only Bride of Christ along with the Church. Priests, take heed. For others receive the sublime dignity of being elevated to bridehood with the Son of God, bound by a matrimonial spousal bond. They are the sacred virgins, members of the Ordo Virginum. Do not presume that because you are a priest, that you can lift your eyes unto them and take them unto yourselves as your spouses. They are sacrosanct, off limits, the spouses of the Lord Jesus Christ who have been overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit, to whom you have pledged to serve in continence as your Master and Leader.

If you have chosen the priesthood, you have chosen to renounce marriage. You have chosen a vocation in which you sublimate your marital inclinations in order to serve the Bridegroom as disciples. To serve Him and His Bride. To honor the Church as your Mother. To honor Mary as your Mother. To honor individual consecrated virgins as your spiritual mothers. They are espoused to your Master and pray for you.  You have renounced marriage to serve the eternal Bridegroom with greater freedom.

Lastly, if the claim is that a man must be able to be complete in his roles of father, son, husband, and brother, then let us remember that in Sacra Virginitas, the Pope Pius XII pointed out that chastity is not “against” nature, and that human nature will not suffer from being unmarried.  Mary is wedded to another, she is off limits to priests.  And if the claim is for man to not be able to handle solitude, then why are priests so very special?  Are there not bachelors, religious monks, friars, married men who are continent for different reasons?  Should they all take on consecrated virgins as their brides because they need to find an outlet for the spousal proclivities?  This is absolutely absurd and not well thought out.  And what of the women?  Should they be seeking out all the clerics as their  bridegrooms and center their affectivity on them?

Let this be the audacious proposal:  let those with marriage bonds have spousal affectivity and those without marriage bonds restrain themselves.  Husbands and wives have the right to spousal affectivity.  Sacred virgins have the right to spousal affectivity with their Spouse, Jesus Christ.  But all others have chosen other vocations.  Let them be content.

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The “Affair” of the Consecrated Virgin Indicia: A Cautionary Tale

Susanna and the Elders

by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV

The world of consecrated virgins is astir because a consecrated virgin has been alleged to be a “mistress” to an archbishop. It goes against the very heart of sacred virginity for a consecrated virgin to have an affair with any human being; the “fallen virgin” becomes an adulteress to her Divine Spouse.  Excommunication and even (at one time) capital punishment were meted out to those who engaged in this serious and sacrilegious behavior in centuries gone by. This being said, now would be a good time to bring up the alarming case of the consecrated virgin, Indicia, because her story is a truly cautionary tale for consecrated virgins, bishops, and the faithful alike.

Indicia was consecrated as a Spouse of Christ by Bishop Zeno.  At the time, she was an orphan, and some say, an heiress.  Some years after her solemn consecration, she lived with a reputable consecrated virgin friend in another diocese, but eventually decided to move to the home of her newly wedded sister and brother-in-law, “Max”.

Max decided to circulate rumors by letter that Indicia was a fallen virgin.  Eventually, Max informed their bishop, Bishop Syagrius, that Indicia had secretly given birth at a monastery and murdered her infant.  In short, he accused Indicia of capital crimes.  Strikingly, though, he did not sign his name to this accusation.  People threatened to leave the Church if the bishop didn’t do something about Indicia.  Bishop Syagrius bowed to public pressure:  He ordered Indicia to undergo a medical examination.  He did this solely on the basis of Max’s unsigned accusation without conducting a thorough investigation and fair trial.  To soften the humiliation of this medical examination, he suggested that Indicia’s consecrated virgin friend, Marcellina, be present.  Marcellina indignantly refused, as she was convinced of Indicia’ purity.

Marcellina’s brother, a bishop, took up Indicia’s cause.  He convened local bishops and held a trial. In addition to Max’s (unsigned) allegations, two women were the principle witnesses, as well as two men associated with them who spread the word about Indicia’s alleged activities.  The two women fled before they could be questioned.  The penalty for calumny was exile, and it is supposed that they did not wish to risk this.  The two men were questioned separately, and like the Biblical story of Susanna, they gave contradictory accounts of the affair.

It should be pointed out that Max had not signed his name to any accusation – he was essentially an anonymous accuser.  The two female “witnesses” had fled (one of them had been seduced by one of the two males).  The men gave contradictory accounts of Indicia’s alleged crimes- violation of her spousal bond with Christ as a veiled virgin, and infanticide.  The legal analysis of the case was clear.  There was no accuser – an anonymous accusation is inadmissible; at the time, an accuser had to provide proof of allegations or he/she could suffer severe penalties for calumny. There were no eye-witnesses.  Indeed, the witnesses had fled the area.  Witnesses are usually necessary for a just and fair trial, particularly when capital punishment and/or excommunication is at stake.  It is widely accepted that the rationale for their disappearance was that the witnesses knew they would be committing perjury if they stuck to their story in court and that they would be liable to exile for calumny.  This can be deduced from the hearsay testimony produced from their two male cohorts.  Also, the credibility of one of the witnesses was weakened because she had been seduced by one of the two male accomplices. Most importantly, in analyzing this situation, is the fact that the two men who had been the women’s collaborators had contradictory accounts of the alleged crime.  Thus, everything was “hearsay”, with no evidence and contradictory testimony from non-witnesses.

The trial was just and transparent.  Max and the two men were excommunicated until they were repentant and had satisfied the penances imposed upon them.  Indicia was exonerated.  Her own bishop was severely rebuked on several points. Syagrius had caved to public pressure.  He also side-stepped the correct way of handling the issue:  namely, he tried to informally try Indicia and attempted to force her – although she had the legal presumption of innocence – to have an invasive gynecological exam.  The correct way of proceeding was to inform the public that he had not received a formal accusation from a named accuser and therefore her good name and reputation must be upheld.  He was unjust because some of the faithful were threatening to leave the Church if he didn’t punish Indicia on account of the rumors.  Also, not only did he side-step the legal route of holding a trial or judging that a trial could not take place on account of the lack of a named accuser; but he used his position to demand the medical examination.  This was unjust and against the human dignity of Indicia, not to mention a potential sacrilege (on his part) precisely because it was uncalled for and unjust.

Fortunately, Indicia had powerful friends — friends who thirsted for justice and truth, friends who understood the incredible violation being proposed by Syagrius.  These were friends who were imbued by faith and who did not join the public lynching mob.  Indicia could have lost not only her reputation but also her property and even her life, because of the malicious gossip spread about her by her brother-in-law, Max.  Thanks to the efforts of her friends, Indicia was vindicated.

It is easy for a case like this to happen again.  False accusations are easily conjured, and with the internet, can be disseminated far and wide in a matter of seconds. For consecrated virgins who do not have a wise St. Ambrose or his sister, St. Marcellina, to defend them, it is necessary to know their rights when accused explicitly or implicitly of being a “fallen virgin”.

In the first place, it must be remembered that sacred virgins do not make vows of obedience to their bishop.  Thus, a bishop cannot command a virgin to ignore the situation or to just pray about it.  He may offer advice but she is not bound to accept it.  The virgin has never surrendered her natural law right to a good reputation.  The only people who are forbidden to protect their own reputation are priests who are accused of solicitation in confession, because of the confessional seal.

Secondly, even if there is an actual named accuser, the virgin must not presume that the bishop will presume her innocence, although the law requires that she be presumed innocent unless found guilty.  Many a falsely accused priest has discovered that the first thing his bishop wants to do is to throw him to the wolves.  Indeed, the bishop may try to pressure the virgin to admit guilt or quietly disappear from her apostolates by side-stepping due process and instead attempt an invalid “administrative procedure” (read: act arbitrarily) in place of a just trial – to rid himself of a potential liability to his diocese.  Often this is done secretly to shield, not the accused, but the diocese from proper external scrutiny and to absolve the bishop from responsibility to observe applicable law.  What would this look like?  Let’s say the virgin is on diocesan committees, and she is immediately taken off of them and shunned in her parish/diocese.  Her volunteer efforts are spurned.  She is an “untouchable” despite the fact that no tribunal has judged and sentenced her according to due process, and she has been denied the opportunity to appeal to Rome.  The injustice is compounded if her livelihood is dependent upon employment with a Church institution and she is fired or laid off as a result of unproven suspicions.  Accused priests have often found themselves in limbo because their bishops refuse to be just and hold a fair and timely trial. They are instead kept away from ministry and under a perpetual cloud of suspicion despite a lack of evidence for their guilt.

Why?  Because bishops succumb to public pressure (or they give in to their lawyers who calculate risk) just like Indicia’s bishop did so long ago.  Bishops are not perfect, and virgins must not naively assume bishops are, or canonize their every action.  St. Ambrose rebuked Bishop Syagrius severely because he had, in fact, acted wrongly in the case of Indicia.  The bishop has no right to stop the virgin from “being an apostle in the Church and in the world” when she has not undergone due process.  This point cannot be over emphasized; many bishops will be tempted to treat the virgin as the enemy instead of as a spiritual daughter. They may try to informally “settle” cases to the detriment of the virgin, giving the clear signal she is guilty despite lack of evidence in order to please their risk-adverse lawyers or to bow to public pressure.  Clericalism can have a significant role as well.  To the clericalist mind, it is far better to uphold the “old boys club” than it is to worry about a “mere” non-ordained person.

The bishop does not have the right — ever — to require a gynecological exam of a virgin.  The virgin may refuse this point blank, always and under any circumstances.

The virgin has the right to a good reputation.  She has the right and sometimes the duty to sue those who unlawfully harm her reputation. It appears that St. Marcellina encouraged Indicia to take legal proceedings against her brother-in-law.  Saints do not spurn justice or law.  In an age when mercy is emphasized, it can be helpful to remember that God is just and that the Church and State would not have courts if it were wrong to seek justice.  Indeed, one of the Vatican courts has the phrase “Without Justice there is No Charity” carved in Latin over its entrance.  It is merciful for a sinner to be punished on this earth rather than in the next life.  Thus, the virgin is justified and can be virtuous in pursuing civil and canonical means of defending her reputation in the tribunals of Church and State.

Bishops and virgins are not the only ones who can benefit by Indicia’s story (the Latin version of her story is available in St. Ambrose’s Letter 5/6).  The faithful also are reminded of something very fundamental.  They must not indulge in rash-judgement.  To enjoy and believe lurid tales of such serious nature without sufficient evidence pointing to guilt is rash judgement, and can be gravely sinful.  It is also gravely sinful to be part of the lynch mob, so to speak, pressuring bishops to skirt justice and encouraging others to do likewise.  We have only to look at the problematic popular treatment of “credibly accused” priests to see the dangers here.

Shifting gears, I shall speak with a heavy heart concerning the current allegation that a consecrated virgin was the mistress of an archbishop.  I am deeply saddened and disappointed that, just as in Indicia’s case, there are no named accusers, no actual proof offered.  Yes, rampant speculation is cited, but not a shred of evidence has been proffered.  There are no emails, no receipts, no contracts, no copies of visas or video footage or anything else offered to the public.  Instead we have what appears to be the equivalent of office gossip being shouted to the rooftops regardless of whom it hurts. It is also disturbing that she was all but named in one version of the tale, but not her anonymous accusers.  Since when is it right or just to vilify a private individual, whose very identity and holy vocation is at stake, not to mention the possibility of grave risk to her life and/or livelihood in her war torn, non-Christian country by reporting what has not been demonstrated to be anything other than hearsay and pure speculation?

A person is usually considered innocent unless proven guilty.  Is it possible that this consecrated virgin is being falsely accused? It is alarming to recall that St. Ambrose punished the people involved in falsely accusing the holy virgin Indicia with excommunication and strict penance.  A “living image of the Church herself” should not be judged by unsubstantiated rumors published in the media, or by the online lynch mob, whipped into a frenzy because of other scandals feeding its lust for blood.  If unlawful material or moral harm should come to her as a result of what appears to me to be simply printed hearsay, I doubt that God would treat such an offense against His sacred spouse lightly.

Personally, knowing the sole woman who fits the identifying description given in one of the articles, and knowing that some of the things claimed as “facts” are to my knowledge not facts based upon pertinent conversations I’ve had with her over the years “in tempore non-suspecto”, I have no reason to find the published speculation about her to be credible.  My argument is that if I have reason to believe that so-called “facts” are factually wrong and can be easily proven to be wrong, then why should I place my belief in the suppositions and conjectures of angry employees and former employees of the archbishop?

While I do not know all the facts of the case, it is my hope that people will disregard published rumors of this woman’s alleged “affair” because what has been published to this point does not appear to me to establish any reasonable “evidence” of wrongdoing on her part.  E.g. How does one know

  1.  what the actual text(s) say if they even exist(ed),
  2. who the true recipient(s) of the text(s) were – mother?  sister?  lover(s)? prospective lovers? employees?  others?
  3. whether the alleged texts were actually romantic,
  4.  what the context of the text(s) was – perhaps something was being quoted for an innocent purpose but is being cited as proof of wrongdoing (e.g. someone acting in a play could be photographed and the picture given to a fiancee as “proof” of infidelity),
  5.  who the actual “author” is…  is the authorship of the alleged text(s) genuinely the person being accused or is it someone who has had access to that person’s phone.

Likewise, a “romantic relationship” or being a “lover” requires reciprocity.  Where is the proof of that?  Why has this one particular woman been flagged rather than scores of other potential people?  What value can we really give to the words of angry persons who have not provided proof of their speculation?

I call upon people to pray for this virgin and for the Christians who are rapidly diminishing in number in her country.  As for the archbishop, I will say that he, too, enjoys the right to a good reputation but I would guess that he has better resources to defend this right.  Pray for him and for all who are involved in this story.

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Announcing New Webinar on Dating!



“I didn’t think it would last.  They were too …” 

Have you ever thought this when you got the news that a friend was getting a divorce?  Hindsight is always 20/20, of course.  But while it is easy to talk about what led to a divorce, it can be a lot harder to tactfully warn a person first in love and ready to march to the altar that they might be in an unhealthy relationship.  Harder still, is to recognize when the person in the unhealthy dating relationship is yourself.  Why?  

At times, serious red flags can be subtle.  They sneak up on you, as it were.  

Other times, we do recognize a red flag but minimize its importance and negative impact on marriage.  Sometimes this is because of inexperience.  Or, in other cases, it can be the result of an overly optimistic hopefulness.

Frequently, our friends or family members can spot potential problems but they don’t feel comfortable in being the “wedge” between you and the person you are dating, and hold their tongue.

The list can go on and on.  But, the bottom line is that with the divorce rate skyrocketing, we need every help we can get to beat the odds and go for a healthy, long-lasting marriage with a well-rounded spouse.  Yet, we do a lot to sabatouge this for ourselves.  

In today’s world, we spend a huge amount of time and attention to planning romantic dates or a vacation or even a wedding.  Sadly, most people take little time or effort to seriously discern whether to get married, to prepare themselves to be a good spouse, and to realistically assess the other person’s attitude and readiness for a mature Christian marriage.  This of course leads to problems down the road.  

Many of these problems could have been prevented or nipped in the bud if people knew the red flags to look for while dating! 

If you are dating, thinking about dating, or know people who are dating, you are cordially invited to a free webinar hosted by Mother Therese Ivers.  Her guest speaker will be Ms. Rose Sweet who will be giving an in-depth look on some of the red flags to be watching out for when dating.  Ms. Sweet has gained a lot of insight into how romantic relationships can be quickly soured by unhealthy dynamics in her apostolate of working with divorced people. Ms. Sweet is a recognized author and speaker, and she has graciously agreed to participate in a question and answer period after her presentation. 

You can join M. Therese and Ms. Sweet on March 19 at 4pm PST (7 pm EST) by signing up at this link here.

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A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part II

Table of contents for A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics

  1. A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part I
  2. A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part II

RP-T-1926-35By Therese Ivers, JCL (JCD cand.)

The Church has a specially honed vocabulary in which words have specific definitions and usages. These definitions may contrast with the normal use of the words by ordinary people in the world. An example of differing vocabulary is the common use of the word “adore” (e.g. “I adore babies!”) and the Catholic use (“I adore God” with latria worship/supreme love). Likewise, Catholics distinguish that there are three levels of “worship”, only one of which denotes “adoration”. That is, we “worship” Mary with hyperdulia veneration but God is the only object of adoration worship/veneration.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, to find that the Church has special definitions attached to words like chastity, celibacy, continence, virtue, vice, and virginity, which do not necessarily correspond to the meanings normally attached to those words by ordinary people in the world. Some terms the Church uses are better understood by people who are familiar with philosophy, because philosophy can help explain certain concepts like “willed” “formal” and “material”, which are necessary for the understanding of virginity, virtue, vice, etc.

Word: Virgin

Non-Catholic Definition

There are various meanings to the word “virgin” that can be easily accessed through dictionaries. Usually, they focus on the physical state of the woman. Specifically, the colloquial use revolves on vaginal penetration, which will usually stretch or break the hymen. “Recovered virgins” are not a possibility to some people, and others think some kind of surgical reconstruction of that area renders one a virgin again.

Catholic Definitions

Strict theological definition and use:

  • The state of a person who has not consented to venereal pleasure.
  • The state of a person who has not consented to venereal pleasure and who has committed to life-long abstinence from such for the sake of the Kingdom.

A wider sense and informal use of the term:

  • A social reality of an unmarried “single” person, often in reference to a never-married woman.

#1 and #2 are the focus of theological treatises, not #3. #3 is most often used in popular Catholic discourse and not with the intention of referring specifically to the virtue of virginity. Rather, the intention is to mark a particular demographic of unmarried persons. It should be recalled that the normative state of single people is that of virginity because that is what baptized non-married Catholics are called to live by virtue of their baptism. That not all are actually virgins does not affect this fundamental expectation of baptized unmarried persons. Therefore, we will not discuss #3 in this article.

Now let’s go on to #1 and #2 of the strict meaning of the word “virgin” in the Catholic Church.

A virgin is one who has not consented to venereal pleasure (acts). Thus an infant is born a virgin. It is this formal virginity that is a minimal expectation for all baptized unmarried persons.

Let’s unpack this a bit more. A virgin is one who has not consented to venereal pleasure (acts). This means that someone who wants to get married and in marriage enjoy the acts proper to married people but who in the meantime as a single has never consented to venereal pleasure/acts is a virgin. A woman who is raped is a virgin, provided that she did not consent to the act or any incidental pleasure that may have been present with it.

Now let’s go even further. To be a virgin is expected by the Church for baptized unmarried members. So, let’s talk about about “consent to venereal pleasure/acts”. What is forbidden for unmarried people is for them to voluntarily engage in sexual activity. It is forbidden for them to consent to it, both exteriorly and interiorly. This means that a person cannot express consent to fornication/adultery/sodomy/bestiality in order to save their life or that of other people. That would be sinful, because consenting to sexual activity with a person to whom one is not married is a sin.

We are called to refuse consent to solicitation. E.g. Alessandro ASKED St. Maria Goretti to have sex with him. He was trying to obtain her CONSENT to act in a manner contrary to chastity/virginity with him. She properly refused. This is our obligation! To refuse solicitation even if that means death or other negative reprecussions upon ourselves or our loved ones.

We cannot pretend that just because a gun or knife is threatening one’s person, that consent can be articulated or expressed, because we are obliged to refuse consent to sins against chastity. Again, this is a basic duty/obligation because we are obliged to witness to Christ even to the shedding of our blood.

Now, let’s take another example. Let’s say someone is physically overcome and raped. The victim is NOT consenting exteriorly or interiorly to the rape. The victim is still a virgin in the eyes of God and the Church. This is a big deal! It means that the Church doesn’t, like non-Catholic people do, attach undue importance to the hymen, but to formal virginity. This doesn’t mean that the physical sign of virginity in women isn’t normally the hymen, but it does say that our theology and understanding of virginity is more nuanced than for non-Catholics.

That being said, we have to avoid one danger, which is to say that to be a virgin, if one can be raped (or have surgery or exercise) cannot have any physical connection, that it must be only in the mind. The Church does not teach that. Rather, the Church teaches that two things must simultaneously happen for a person to stop being a virgin – consent to venereal pleasure/act (the act of the will) and the physical venereal act itself. So if the act happens but is not consented to (e.g. someone is raped) then that person continues to be a virgin because consent is absent.

What about surgical interventions or exercise affecting the hymen? Does a stretching or breaking of the hymen through these means make someone a non-virgin? The answer to this question is very simple. Surgical intervention does not involve willed sexual pleasure. Neither does exercise (in and of itself). Therefore, a person who has lost the hymenal membrane through surgery or exercise does not cease to be a virgin in the eyes of God or the Church.

Once virginity is lost through full consent to a (corporeal) venereal act, then it is lost forever. God Himself cannot restore it. Why? Because God is a God of truth. A person cannot “un-experience” what has been done. It has factually happened, and historically happened. Even if the physical membrane is surgically (or even miraculously) restored, the moral human act has still factually occurred. Hence, the push for some Evangelical Christians or Muslims to have surgery for their hymens has no bearing on their status as virgins or non-virgins in the eyes of God but can only help to avoid death or perceived disgrace by their future husbands.

Thus far, we’ve only discussed virgins in the first strict sense of the word. Now let’s look to the other sense in the Church’s vocabulary.

A person who #1 is a virgin and #2 decides to maintain lifelong virginity for the sake of the Kingdom in following Christ is either a dedicated virgin or a virgin-person with a consecration. The dedicated virgin is one who does this by private resolution (propositum), vow, intention, promise, or oath. Lay members of Societies of Apostolic Life or Personal Prelatures or other non-consecrated forms of consecrated life are dedicated virgins if they are, in fact, virgins. They are dedicated continent people if they are not virgins.

The consecrated person who is a virgin may be a member of the Order of Virgins or may be a virgin-member of a form of life which gives consecration to its members. Thus, a woman who is a virgin who belongs to a religious institute is a consecrated person who is a virgin. She is, however, not a member of the Order of Virgins even if she is a virgin because religious consecration is not a “consecration of virginity” or “consecrated virginity” in the strict sense, but is a consecration of a person vowed to the observance of the evangelical counsels, separated from the world, and in common life.

An eminent example of a virgin-religious who is not a “consecrated virgin” of the Order of Virgins is St. Thomas Aquinas. He was a virgin. He was a consecrated person by reason of religious consecration in the Dominican Order. But he is not what we are calling Brides of Christ/Consecrated Virgins of the Order of Virgins. It is a specific consecration given only to virgin-women that constitutes women in the Order of Virgins.

Juridic Virginity

This is the kind of virginity required for the consecration of virgins as brides of Christ. Until 1970, juridic virginity (and for a period of time, the absence of having been raped) was all that was required for eligibility for this solemn consecration or anointing. It denoted a woman who had never lost virginity by vaginal-penile sex. Victims of rape, though acknowledged by the Church as continuing to be virgins, were forbidden to receive the consecration for various reasons.

Now, the juridic virginity has been substituted by the 1970 Rite of Consecration of Virgins for the absence of non-public violations against chastity, and even more diluted by the Instruction Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago [ESI] with something amorphous or non-existent. What does this mean concretely?

Dr. Ed Peters, in his Studia Canonica article and brief recent article on ESI, lays out what the previous, present, and future requirements were/are/might be for women desirous of receiving the consecration of virgins. At the very least, juridic virginity meant absence of vaginal-penile intercourse. Some authors held that any act destructive of virginity was sufficient impediment [e.g. masturbation, oral sex, or lesbian sex] to the consecration. But one thing was absolutely clear, whether one held to a strict core minimum of “juridic virginity” as defined by the absence of consented vaginal-penal sex, or whether it was expanded to all consented-to venereal acts, both definitions for juridic virginity (for the purpose of admission to the consecration of virgins) required bodily continence!

What is bodily continence? In a highly restricted sense, continence is the willed absence of consented vaginal-penile intercourse. This is important because rape of a person, married or unmarried, does not constitute an act which deprives the victim of continence. Because, continence depends upon consent +corporeal venereal act! There are three kinds of continence. Virginal continence, widowed continence, and married continence. All three kinds of continence have one thing in common. An act, whether lawful or unlawful, of consented vaginal-penile intercourse, is an act against continence.

Whether one restricts the interpretation of the word continence to its strictest meaning of abstention from voluntary sexual intercourse, or one has a broader understanding of it as meaning the abstention from voluntary sexual acts not limited to but including sexual intercourse, an act against continence destroys both the state of virginity and the virtue of virginity (separate things) forever. The novelty of ESI consists of the fact that it no longer requires the state of juridic virginity (absence of penile-vaginal sex) as a juridic criterion for consecration. Rather, it appears to allow for juridic “chastity” instead. How is this?

If a body kept in perfect continence is rejected without any disclaimers as an “essential” pre requisite for the consecration of virgins, then the whole of the meaning of the term “continence” is rejected. In other words, acts against continence can be read in a restricted sense to mean just acts of voluntary vaginal sexual intercourse. But acts against continence can in some instances be read in a broader sense to mean “all voluntary sexual acts”, including vaginal intercourse. It doesn’t matter which definition is selected because both include vaginal-penile intercourse as part of the definition. If you do not explicitly reject vaginal-penile intercourse as being included in the term “continence”, then logically, you are including in the word and meaning. Thus, for ESI to reject continence as a requirement is for it to reject being a virgin (possessing juridic virginity) as a requirement, because all agree that continence is lost with intercourse (and not all agree that anything besides intercourse canonically breaks continence).

To clarify this, let’s reword the ESI sentence a bit to help illustrate this point. Reworked, there are two essentially plausible renditions:

  • #1 Continence, that is, the absence of voluntary vaginal-penile sexual intercourse, is no longer an essential pre-requisite for admission to the Order of Virgins.
  • #2 Continence, that is, the absence of both voluntary vaginal-penile sexual intercourse plus the absence of any other voluntary acts of venereal pleasure, is no longer an essential pre-requisite for admission to the Order of Virgins.

It should be noted that there is NO caveat or disclaimer or exception mentioned in ESI #88. It doesn’t say “continence, in the sense of acts proper to the married state aside from vaginal-penile intercourse”.   Thus, virginity, not even merely juridic virginity, is not a requirement for admission to the Order of Virgins according to the Instruction.[1]

To wrap up this portion of this article, it should be noted that the Church does not refer to virginity as merely a material or “physical state” of a person. Rather, virginity has to do with the absence of willed venereal pleasure. Thus, to claim that this passage in ESI is an acknowledgement of the ability of rape-victims to receive the consecration is rather baffling as rape does not destroy continence or virginity! More on this later.

To be continued…

[1] Yet, it appears, only specific sins against chastity qualify as impediments to the consecration according to the Instruction. (This is baffling because when there are restrictions, they are to be interpreted strictly and yet the blanket prohibition against external forum acts against chastity is in the Praenotanda – liturgical law of the Rite… which would trump any less restrictive interpretation given in the Instruction…)

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