Sunday, January 04, 2009

Thoughts on Dom Hugh

I am not too sure I believe the rumour about Dom Hugh Gilbert, Abbot of Pluscarden being offered then turning down or delaying taking the diocese of Westminster, because of problems in the monastery.
If the story has a basis in truth then the implications are pretty radical. I do not know much about Abbot Hugh, except he is known for his holiness and Pluscarden has a reputation even amongst monastics as being ascetic and contemplative and conservative. It has no school, no parish, the community is small, less than thirty. There is really no comparison here with the appointment of Basil Hume. Ampleforth with its school and dependant parishes is comparable to a small diocese, Pluscarden is more like a small isolated country parish.

If this story has a basis in truth, then the Pope has passed over our present bishops, therefore he is not looking to administrative ability, or to those who have "proved" themselves in the present narrow and narrowing system.
He is looking to a radical commitment to Christ and holiness, and a rootedness in Tradition, and from what I have heard of Dom Hugh an ability to draw people to Christ.

Like many priests I have become increasingly concerned by the way in which bishops have been appointed in England and Wales. This is apparently the questionnaire that is sent by the nuncio to gather information on candidates. Amongst other things it asks about Orthodoxy:

Doctrinal orientation. Loyalty to the Doctrine and Magisterium of the Church. In particular: the attitude of the candidate to the Documents of the Holy See on the Ministerial Priesthood, on the Priestly Ordination of Women, on marriage, on sexual Ethics and on Social Justice. Fidelity to the genuine Tradition of the Church and commitment to the authentic renewal promoted by Vatican 11, and adherence to the "Statement of Conclusions, 1998".

but nowhere does it ask if the candidate actually believes in God or can communicate that belief. Some readers might be scandalised by this suggestion that a bishop might not believe but today the Church needs bishops whose belief in God transforms them and their priests and is immediately evident.

It is not unusual to sit through a sermon preached by a few of our bishops, which never mention God or refer to the scriptures, which not only fail to inspire, but leave one wondering if the preacher believes anything at all. Nor is it unusual to attend a confirmation that seems more like a rather shoddy graduation ceremony rather than the completion of Christian Initiation and bestowing of the Seal of the Holy Spirit.

England and Wales desperately needs evangelisation, evangelisation isn't about clever techniques or sociology, it is certainly not about cunning schemes, small groups or large groups, it is about holiness which comes from living faith and a deep personal desire for Christ, and a firm hope in Divine Providence. I pray that I am wrong about the Abbot, and he really will be the next Archbishop of Westminster. If it is true, then his appointment will be criticised for his lack worldliness and of administrative experience, but quite frankly I suspect holiness trumps administrative ability, and we all know about worldly bank managers nowadays.


Anonymous said...

Bravo Fr Ray! A man of God, an unblooody martyr, one who is prepared to live out the red of the inevitable Cardinal's dress. Someone who will witness to the truth and refute error, in charity and humility. That is what Westminister needs, what England needs! Could the Abbot of Pluscarden be the man ? Let us all pray hard!

JARay said...

Thanks you for this incisive comment about the rumours Fr. Ray.
Not that my opinion matters, but I agree with you entirely.

Anonymous said...

You've done it again, Father, excellent post!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

Many Americans complain about our bishops, but we have a great number of (especially new ones) who have exactly what you're looking for.

I pray you'll get some like some of the ones we are starting to get.

.The Cellarer said...

The Orthodox have a strong tradition of their Bishops being monastics, rather than parish clergy, and it seems to work very well for them.

My own view on this story? Very sceptical and I wonder at the author's motivation...

Fr Ray Blake said...

I have one or two Orthodox bishop friends, their monasticism is theoretical rather than practical, they are norminally academics, who have (possibly) been to a monastic seminary.

Anonymous said...

We have been kept in suspense for some time now - January 2nd has now come and gone and we still don't know who it will be.

I am intrigued by the necessity for Bishops to have 'adherence to statement of conclusions 1998.' Does anyone know what that is in plain English. I'm surprised they don't add 'sub section a, b or c' to it!

PeterHWright said...

I agree most strongly with Fr. Ray's post, but it isn't going to happen. Not yet, anyway. The next Archbishop of Westminster will be a "safe pair of hands", not necessarily an enthusiast of the Benedictine reform, but a proven administrator and competentent performer in the media. The Church in England & Wales can't afford any more PR disasters.

A good shepherd ? Well, that would be nice, of course.

I'm truly sorry to sound cynical about this.

Let us pray for this man. His task will not be a pleasant or an easy one.

Jane said...

Dear, dear Father Ray,

Bravo indeed! I agree with you wholeheartedly.
But BEWARE. By the time your read this you may well have seen that DT of Holy Smoke has made a post on this one of yours. As is increasingly characteristic of him, he has picked on the one negative paragraph of yours that is critical of bishops, and passes over the main thrust (as I see it) of your message, namely the positive and holy qualities so necessary in the man chosen for Westminster.

I think you may have more visitors to your blog today than usual! In any case you may also feel it necessary to correct the balance yourself on Holy Smoke.

With the assurance of my thanks and prayers as always,

Anonymous said...

Father Ray, thank you for another -yet another!- wonderful post!

Fr Patrick said...

I agree with Jane, the headline at Holy Smoke does not do justice to your post. I don't see the maverick bit either just a very interesting blog with food for thought.

Ben Trovato said...


I wouldn't worry about DT and Holy Smoke: he is always provocative, and those who read him take that as part of the house style. It may indeed mean you get more visitors (like me, for example) but that is probably not a problem to you!

With regard to the next Archbishop of Canterbury, you are of course quite right: we need a holy leader and a break from the clique.

You or your readers may be interested in the poll on the qualities required for the job at

Ches said...

Well done, Father Ray. May you live to fight another day!

Physiocrat said...

Since 1998 Sweden has done very well with a Carmelite, Bishop Anders Arborelius ocd, so there is something to be said for having a Religious.

The text reads "A time for solidarity with our oriental Catholics - we are brothers and sisters because God himself has become our brother in Jesus Christ... Many Christians have come to our land to live their lives in safety, from the Holy Land, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, etc. One way to show solidarity with these people is to take part in their services which they celebrate in our land. Although their liturgies are conducted in languages which we do not understand - Chaldean, Aramaic (the language of Jesus himself), Armenian, they are the same Catholic mass. This can make Christmas richer for us..."

With such leadership, no wonder the church is quietly flourishing. This is the kind of leadership we need - it must be around somewhere, though men like that are probably lying low just now and will have to be flushed out.

GOR said...

Well said, Father! It is unfortunate that today the questions on orthodoxy have to be asked. In the (now distant) past, orthodoxy and adherence to the Fullness of Truth that is the Catholic Church and Her teaching was assumed, expected and usually found in all levels of the Catholic clergy.

But the experiences of the past 40 years have now made it a requirement. However, the call to lead in holiness has always been a sine qua non of all who were called to leadership in the Church. Unfortunately, many have forgotten - or never learned - that.

Praying that the new Ab. will be as you describe - or at least be amenable to conversion...

Volpius Leonius said...

PR disasters?

We are not a political party trying to get votes or widespread acclaim.

What we need is simply someone who has the Faith and is not afraid to make it known to others.

What we need is someone who knows that the Catholic Faith is the answerer to all our problems and is wiling to make this known to the people of England and Wales even if they will be "martyred" by the press for it.

Half of our problems are a result of the church in this country trying to win the favour of the antichrists instead of combating them.

Someone who will make his decisions based on the Catholic Faith rather than the current fashionable whims of the intelligentsia will do me.

umblepie said...

Well spoken Father. I can remember attending a group confirmation of children many years ago, possibly 10 - 15 years ago, and I was shocked by the 'address' of the Bishop, he seemed to be almost totally at a loss for words, lacking conviction in what he did say with a total lack of spiritual explanation and encouragement. It was an 'off the cuff', banal, and unspiritual blurb. This Bishop is still around in his See!! I hope that this was a one off,bad day, but I fear that this was not the case.

Delia said...

Holy, orthodox, intelligent and tough. Does anything else really matter? A good team could sort out the rest.

Anonymous said...

You are saying what so many of us are thinking, but have no voice.

We need a man of God who is not afraid of taking on the secular world, who is not seduced by it and who is prepared to be misunderstood, as long as he can preach the Gospel.

I don't mind if he isn't a traditionalist as long as he inspires holiness, love of the Cross, a greater desire for God, and you don't get this by setting up another expensive committee.

Anonymous said...


I know for a fact that the story concerning the abbot of Pluscarden and the archdiocese of Westminster is false. I am appalled by the coverage in Damian Thompson's blog.

A Pater

Anonymous said...

It is almost certain that it will be Archbishop Vincent Nicholls. I remember participating in a LMS pilgrimage to Rome and having an audience with then Cardinal Ratzinger. During the course of the audience the president gave a rather dire account of the life of the Church in England and Wales, to which his Eminence responded 'but great things are happening in Birmingham with Archbishop Nicholls'.

Jane said...

If the Dom Hugh story is false and it's going to be either Cardiff or Birmingham, perhaps Anon. who claims to be in the know, will explain why we are still waiting to be told.

Jane said...

clare a:

your second para. is a good description of the venerable Bavarian in Rome. It seems, to our great detriment that no-one remotely resembling him is to be found, ready, willing or able to take the major shepherd's crook in England and Wales.

Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

I completely agree with what you have written.

Jane asks a perfectly fair question: "If the Dom Hugh story is false and it's going to be either Cardiff or Birmingham...why are we still waiting to be told?"

Might the delay have something to do with the fact that moving an existing Archbishop to Westminster creates a cascading effect, and further vacancies that need filling?

Appointing Dom Hugh (or any other non-bishop) is easy -- no other bishop moves. But if, say, Vincent Nichols is promoted (terna No.1), Birmingham then has a vacancy that needs to be filled (terna No.2). If you fill it with a bishop from somewhere else, that means a third selection process for another diocese (terna No.3).

The Nuncio is going to have a game of episcopal musical chairs on his hands if any existing bishop replaces Cardinal Cormac, and this must be *a* delaying factor if not *the* delaying factor.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post Father. I've been thinking about what you, Ttony and Damian Thompson have written.
It seems to me that those of us with no voice in the Church are looking for someone willing and couragous enough to speak out for us- or with us.
I gave up hoping the Bogles might do so when we were facing the gay adoption debacle.
I haven't seen anyone else either until Damian arrived on the scene. His way of doing things can be a bit 'journalistic' but until you wrote this I haven't seen anyone else willing to really put our concerns into real words.

I would LOVE to believe that Dom Hugh has been offered Westminster. I would love to believe that he will eventually take it-once things at home are sorted.
I fervantly hope we get a Cardinal in Westminster willing to scrap the bulk of RE teaching materials and lead the way in reforming the way the Mass is said.
Neither front runner looks up to that job.
I have long given up hope that the Church in England will support me in bringing my children up in the Faith. I do it despite the Church here and in hope of a better future for them.
but it's a lonely business.

Sorry this is long. You hit a nerve.
God bless

Anonymous said...

A great vision from Francis of 'episcopal musical chairs' - shades of Dave Allen here!

But as there are auxilliary bishops in the large dioceses, don't these automatically fill the vacancies which may appear either through illness, death or 'promotion' of a Bishop?

Anonymous said...

Well it takes courage to say it. I'm glad it has been. maybe it will wake people up.

Anonymous said...

Great summary of the situation thank you .
However I think that if it is to be a monastic based priest then surley Timothy Ratcliffe is the perfect candidate ...A holy man; a good preacher;in close touch with Rome; and a spirituality which will shine through to the whole christian community of this country.
Canterbury will always end up with a political ball and chain and will thus never be able to give the spiritual leadership the country so desperately needs . For me Tim is the perfect choice

PeterHWright said...

"Canterbury will always end up with a political ball and chain" says Michael. Very true.

But I wonder if something similar isn't happening, or already has happened, to Westminster. I hope I'm wrong. I just wonder.

The Cardinal said...

The grapevine says that Archbishop Vincent Nichols has cleared his diary of all future engagements, which may be an indication. But it also says that Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds has returned early from his post-Christmas break, which ditto ditto. Who knows? Not Damaian Thompson, that's for sure.

Certainly an announcement is expected this month.

Anonymous said...

This year; next year; sometime; never?

This is reminiscent of waiting for the SP to appear!

I wonder which blog will have the answer first. Which grapevine should one attach oneself too?

Louis E. said...

He HAS in the fullness of time become Bishop of Aberdeen.What will this mean for Papa Stronsay?

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