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Pope chooses abbot as Bishop of Aberdeen

By on Monday, 6 June 2011

Bishop-elect Hugh Gilbert has been abbot at Pluscarden for 19 years (Photo: Paul McSherry)

Bishop-elect Hugh Gilbert has been abbot at Pluscarden for 19 years (Photo: Paul McSherry)

Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Benedictine Abbot Hugh Gilbert as Bishop of Aberdeen.

Bishop-elect Gilbert, 59, has been abbot of Pluscarden Abbey, in Moray, the Diocese of Aberdeen, for 19 years. He was born in Hampshire but joined the monastery in his early 20s. He will succeed Bishop Peter Moran, who has retired on age and health grounds.

In a statement the bishop-elect said he intended to “give myself wholeheartedly, like my predecessors, to the lay people, religious and priests and deacons of this beautiful diocese”.

He said: “I have much to learn, and it will not be easy to leave my monastery after 37 years. But I do so knowing that I am not going among strangers.

“I commend myself to the kind hearts and prayers of all whom I am called to serve. Together in Christ may we shine with the light of his Resurrection.”

Bishop Moran who, at 76, is one year past the standard retirement age of a bishop, said that during Abbot Gilbert’s time at Pluscarden the abbey had been “the serene spiritual heart of this diocese”.

He said: “I am confident that his spiritual leadership as bishop will bring many graces to the members of the diocese, and to the wider community, in the years to come.”

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, president of the Scottish bishops’ conference, praised the bishop-elect’s writings, which, he said, had “inspired many throughout Scotland and indeed in other parts of the world”.

His appointment was also welcomed by blogger Fr Tim Finigan, who said he was a “wise, holy man who has governed his Abbey with prudence and kindness”.

In 2008 Bishop-elect Gilbert was rumoured to be a “dark horse” candidate to succeed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor as Archbishop of Westminster.

In an interview with the Spectator, he described how the Church should respond to secularism, saying: “We need to go back to the patrician period, the period of the fathers of the Church, to see how they dealt with the culture. Our culture is in many ways antipathetic if you like to the work of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is still the Holy Spirit and can still, well, raise up children to Abraham out of the stones.”

In an email, he added: “I like the idea that beauty and holiness are the apologia for Christianity. The beauty of Christianity needs to shine out more; this is where the celebration of the liturgy becomes central. And the goodness of Christianity, ie the holiness of self-giving love (the witness of charity) and of prayer, needs to be sustained and developed.

“And this too, certainly: that the one thing Christianity has to offer is Easter. Simply: Christ is risen!”

Bishop-elect Gilbert has written two books, Unfolding the Mystery, about the course of the liturgical year, and Living the Mystery.

His ordination as bishop will take place in St Mary’s Cathedral in Aberdeen on August 15.

  • Anonymous

    I am pleased, as he will be a good and conservative bishop, but I am worried about whether this will adversely affect his monastery.

  • Lindi

    The words of Abbot Hugh which are quoted above brought tears of joy to me. Such perception about how to deal with the spirit of the age. One can feel hope for the Church . We must pray that God will send us more priests like angels.

  • W Oddie

    But why, oh why, did he rule out being appointed to Westminster, on the grounds of not wanting to leave his monastery? No disrespect intended to Aberdeen, but in Westminster his impact could have been on a wholly different scale. Ah, well. 

  • friend of Pluscarden Abbey

    That is a “when did stop beating your wife” question. He is a good religious and does what he his told. Please stop these insults to holy monk.

  • Roman Priest

    W. Oddie is way off the mark. Where is the evidence for this claim? There is none. Father Hugh was hurt by the questioning last year of his loyalty to the will of the Holy Father. If you check his comments on Saturday you can read the spirit of obedience of the man: “As a Catholic Christian and Benedictine monk, I accept this as the call of Christ..”

  • friend of Pluscarden Abbey

    Yes, in raking up this old lie William Oddie is guilty of pure defamation.

  • Roman Priest

    It is sad that W. Oddie is concerned about disrespecting “Aberdeen” but does not seem
    to show the same concern about not disrespecting Father Hugh. Ah, well.


  • Anonymous

    Although this was just a rumour, it was rumoured that he did this because at the time his novice master had run away and the monastery was in a state of crisis. Now, perhaps, things have stabilised there.

    Perhaps Aberdeen is only the first rung on the episcopal ladder. Maybe Edinburgh awaits? Or Glasgow?

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I think he sounds very promising, and I like the imagery used.

  • friend of Pluscarden Abbey


    William Oddie should
    not be repeating unfounded rumours. What his question implied is untrue and
    damaging. Shame on you too, raking up dirt at a time like this.

  • Anonymous

    What a ridiculous comment. What’s damaging about declining a diocese, whether he did or not? As for dirt, I see none. Now drop the histrionics.

  • Anonymous

    Defamation? I suggest you learn the meaning of the word!

  • Den flyvende hollender

    I have seen no evidence that Abbot Hugh actually did turn
    down Westminster. Even if he did, this is something which should remain
    strictly confidential.

    Of course, anything is possible with God’s help, and I don’t want to say that Abbot Hugh might not have been a wonderful Archbishop of Westminster, but, if you want to look at things prudently and calmly, being Abbot of Pluscarden just simply isn’t sufficient preparation for the task. Pluscarden has 20-25 monks, no school, no parishes, just a simple monastic life. The change would have been very great indeed.

    On the other hand, Abbot Hugh becoming Bishop of Aberdeen is much more realistic. Pluscarden plays a great role in the life of the diocese. Practically all the diocesan priests are familiar with the abbey and with Abbot Hugh, thanks to the annual clergy days and the diocesan pilgrimage. So too are the faithful. Abbot Hugh will be a wonderful Bishop of Aberdeen. And he will have both the humility not to aspire to anything more, and the humility to accept greater things if called.

  • friend of Pluscarden Abbey

    You English forget that we have a different legal system in Scotland. No libel here. To be actionable in Scots law, a defamatory statement must be false and able to “lower he plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society”, So, say you are were wrong Dr. Oddie and ask forgiveness.

    Ah, well.

  • friend of Pluscarden Abbey

    One of the vows which Abbot Hugh made at his profession was one of obedience and in the current code of canon law the Pope is ultimate superior of all Roman rite religious. Hence the damage of the lie that he declined Westminster. Simple point – no histrionics.

  • Den flyvende hollender

    The choice may be somewhat limited, but I think the monks will elect a fine abbot.

  • Roman Priest


  • Roman Priest

    Hy is suide.

  • Nat_ons

    If he did so, it was the work of the Holy Ghost – without doubt. Westminister, being a bit of a snake pit, would have been more than a learning curve for any tradition-loving, mystery-living and Benedict-supporting abbot (even to the more ‘in-crowd’ and yet truly blessed Cardinal Hume). Aberdeen - although not free of its own poison chalice concerns, naturally - is a wonderful community of souls, friends, among whom he may learn how to handle the bitter struggles ahead .. for as God knows and man experiences (whether men of God like to speak of this ‘power’ today or not) there is one who prowls still, ready to devour.

    Many the Lord bless, keep and protect him – for all our sakes.

  • Lee

    no one really cares about secular law in a religious field. Just drop it would you especially if you are going to use Scots Law !

  • friend of Pluscarden Abbey

    There is no “IF”  for your patronising comment. It is a lie that he declined Westminster. It never happened. He was not asked.

    Dr Oddie can we now draw a line under this?

  • friend of Pluscarden Abbey

    Lee, the enemies of Archbishop Nichols are not going to drop this lie. They will keep raking it up to undermine the current Archbishop of Westminster, whom they want to portray as second best.  They want to “lower him in the estimation of right-thinking members of society”

  • Nat_ons

    Gosh! F of PA, what makes you say I was patronising? I can’t imagine that reminding all here the Holy Ghost is the guide of faithful souls - whatever our rising or sitting, if others understand this or not! As for the devil waiting to devour, there are times he does not have to wait .. Christians may rush headlong into his jaws.

    But I am glad you are able to lay mere surmises to rest. And do I trust they may lie in peace – as they deserve. Please God, Aberdeen builds up His Grace .. as he will it: in grace.

    God bless, Nat.

  • Tiggy

    This is great news. The Scottish Bishops badly need need new blood. Abbot Hugh is a lovely, deep, man, I have met him. He will be a loss to The Abbey, but he is still near, and will always be attached to it.

  • Jameshughes

    they are all meant to be holy. you have made your point,rightly or wrongly, now why can’t you let it drop!

  • friend of Pluscarden Abbey

    No Dr Oddie, I
    am still waiting for you to say sorry for raking up an old lie which was then and
    remains even now offensive to


    1 the Abbot, as it implies that he was a
    disobedient religious last year.

    2 Archbishop Nichols, as it implies
    that he was second best.


  • W Oddie

    I wasn’t “lying”, that’s a ridiculous thing to say. If it’s true that the question was never put, then I was mistaken. But the “rumour” was so widespread at the time that it is certainly clear that in denying that there was any truth in possibility of the rumours coming to anything  it he WAS effectively ruling out the possibility of his going of Westminster from gaining any traction. There’s more than one way of turning a possibility down. Anyway, I’m glad he’s not now ruled out an episcopal future: and I hope to see him go from strength to strength, and his influence ever more widely felt. 

  • W Oddie

    Ludicrous: see above

  • W Oddie

    I entirely agree

  • W Oddie

    I’m sorry now I spent any time responding to this man; not a mistake I’ll make again. All I can say, that with such “friends” as this, I hope Pluscarden Abbey has no enemies. There was NO defamation: simply, at worst, a mistake.

  • Crossraguel

    I welcome the appointment of Abbot Gilbert as my
    new Bishop, with both optimistic hope that he will shoulder the burden with
    faith, tempered by realistic expectation that the restoration of Catholicity
    and authority may be a forlorn aspiration.

    An early litmus test will be progress in the granting of faculties to the
    Transalpine Redemptorist community on Papa Stronsay, an issue which has dragged
    on somewhat since their reconciliation with the hierarchy after Summorum
    Pontificum – whether due to Bishop Moran or the Vatican is not for me to
    conclude. When this is resolved, it would be desperately disappointing for them
    to be limited to the island or seriously restricted in their ministry in the
    mainland diocese, as many fear is/was a subliminal intention.

    The task ahead for Bishop Gilbert is immense, truly not an attractive career
    move for one seeking earthly reward. Aberdeen is an incredibly bleak liturgical
    environment, where the fruits delivered by the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ are
    evidenced by the desecrated church buildings, to Confessions – rarely
    available in a confessional – offered for such limited periods and in such a progressive
    manner as to ensure the efficacy of the sacrament is so diminished that a
    fraction of the faithful see the need to regularly seek absolution and even
    still can be as likely to have doubt cast on their sinfulness in so doing.

    Key personnel will need decisive correction if there is to be any shift from
    the prevailing liberal syncretism exemplified by faith in the ‘Alpha’ concept and Medjugorje phenomenon,
    to an authentically Catholic profession of faith in this most spiritually bleak
    of outposts in the country. Bishop Gilbert starts with a blank canvas in my
    book and it is my sincere hope that his will be a restorative tenure at the
    helm, a measure of which will be whether traditional Catholics are more likely
    to be comfortable in the practice their faith in diocesan churches than ecumenical

    Our Lady of Aberdeen, pray for him.    

  • Diffal

    There are rays of Hope in our diocese, there are solid individual priests who will only be strengthened by this appointment. (Not to mention Pluscarden and Papa Stronsay)

    Let us Pray for Bishop-elect Gilbert and all the Priests of Aberdeen

  • Basil Loft@ss

    There was no way Hugh Gilbert was offered Westminster. It is an absurdity to suggest that a priest from another hierarchy would be offered a position of such significance.

  • Diffal

    The Abbot himself said he was not offered Westminster and said that the rumours were “pure fiction” Basil Hume was similarly outwith the Hierarchy when appointed to westminster so I don’t see the absurdity you do.

  • Rich

    Let it go.

  • friend of Pluscarden Abbey

    Why should I, Rich?
    Because Scots should not dare to complain
    about the gaffes of an English journalist?
    Ah, well.

  • friend of Pluscarden Abbey

    Nothing bleak about the liturgical environment in Pluscarden which is at the very heart of the Diocese of Aberdeen, and among the many clerical and non-clerical oblates of the Abbey.

    However would that Father Hugh were starting with a “blank canvas”! The need for “decisive correction” is a wee underestimation of what faces him. He has the experience to do it.

    All holy men and women, pray for him.