From a reader…
As one currently discerning a religious vocation, I was wondering: if someone takes vows in a religious order before it is officially approved by the Holy See (such as an “ad experimentum” order), what happens to them if the order is never approved and closes? Are they moved to another convent/monastery? Or does something else happen?
Thank you very much, Father. I pray for you and all priests daily.
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson
An interesting question, indeed.
Once a religious institute has been established – even if it has only been established at the diocesan level – only the Holy See can suppress the institute (c. 584). When an institute is suppressed, in the act of suppression, provisions are made for the remaining members of the institute. Generally, this is done with the consent of the individuals.
It may be that there exists a similar institute, and the vows of a member can be transferred to that other institute. For example, if the Dominican Sisters of St. Reginald in Blackduck are suppressed, [Fr. Z adds: It is more like that that would happen over in Libville where Most Rev. Fatty McButterpants does what he can to repress new vocations] the remaining sisters may transfer to the Dominican Sisters of St. Mannes in Far Madding.
It may be that a member wishes to transfer to an entirely different institute. If the receiving institute is willing, a transfer may be made, but there may well be a period of formation required in the transfer, so that the new member be apprised of the history, charism, and life of the receiving institute.
If the institute involves clerics, some may wish to incardinate into a diocese. Again, the receiving diocese must be willing to accept them.
Some may wish to be released from their vows, and, generally speaking, this can be done. In some cases, there may be an insistence on the part of the Holy See that some – or even all – be dismissed from their vows. If there are significant problems in the institute, which provide the reason for suppression, the members might be dismissed without their consent – following the normal process of dismissal.
In the case of an community that is just beginning, and has not yet been formally erected by the bishop as a diocesan institute, if that community decides to close, or if the bishop decides, after a period of discernment, not to go ahead with erecting it as a diocesan institute, generally speaking, the members are simply released from any promises they have made. It may be that they choose to enter another community or institute. If there are clerics in such a community, the clerics are already incardinated into the diocese, or perhaps another diocese or religious institute (if it’s not a formal institute, it does not have the ability to incardinate clerics) and their incardination remains the same.
These questions are worthwhile asking if one is considering entering a religious community that has just started as an experiment. Without attempting to stifle the Holy Spirit, one must make reasonable provisions for the future, and enter into something with open eyes. The assistance of a good spiritual director can help one make the decision, with the full knowledge that, with any vocation, there is always an element of risk.
[Fr. Z adds: If I am not mistaken, some orders or institutes could be be revived even decades after the decease of their last members.]