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Bishop Hugh Gilbert: Christ will be my top priority

The new Bishop of Aberdeen “could not have had a better preparation than to have been the Abbot of Pluscarden Abbey”, according to Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

Dom Hugh Gilbert was ordained Bishop of Aberdeen in the cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption on Monday. He is the first abbot to join the Scottish Catholic hierarchy since its restoration.

Dom Hugh Gilbert was abbot of Pluscarden Abbey near Elgin for 19 years, and has been a contemplative monk for 37 years.

Born Edward Gilbert in 1952 in Emsworth, near Chichester, he was baptised in the Anglican Church. He was received into the Catholic Church on Christmas Eve in 1970, aged 18. After gaining a first in History at King’s College, London, he entered Pluscarden Abbey at Moray in 1974 and was ordained a priest in 1979.

Speaking to the Scottish Catholic Observer before his ordination Hugh Gilbert said he hoped to build bridges both inside and outside the Church. “I would like to help people improve their relationship with God and to build their faith,” he said, “Also to build links with the other dioceses in Scotland and the other Christian groups here as well.”

He said he hoped to take with him from the monastery into the outside world a profound awareness of Christ.

“The rule of St Benedict says ‘prefer nothing to the love of Christ,’” he said. “I would like to think I take a firm sense of that with me, a sense of Christ and a certainty of Christ.”

He is not unprepared for his new role. “I do know the diocese, having lived here for 37 years,” he said. “I know nearly all the priests and religious and many of the laity so I will not be among strangers. Though of course you have different relationships as a bishop than you do as an abbot. But everyone has been very welcoming.”

In his homily at the ordination Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, said: “Through his very beautiful writings, many based on the addresses to his community at Pluscarden, he has had a magnificent outreach in helping to build up the spiritual lives of others. And because of the outreach from his own monastery to other monasteries throughout the world he realises the needs of those in countries which are less prosperous than our own.

“One might say that a new bishop for the Diocese of Aberdeen could not have had a better preparation than to have been the Abbot of Pluscarden Abbey within this diocese, for such a period of time, before his call by Pope Benedict XVI to be the bishop.”

The new bishop spoke for a few minutes after his ordination. “It is thanks to Pluscarden that I am what I am, the good bits anyway,” he said. Responding to people who have asked him if it is strange to be leaving the monastery after 37 years, Bishop Gilbert said that it was like “being on land and all of a sudden finding yourself on the sea”.

He said that he had not yet finalised his pastoral priorities but that his years in the monastery had given him one simple answer: Christ. “To put it liturgically, it is the discovery of Easter, when Christ passed over from death to life,” he said.

“Everything that we as Christians are springs from that moment. He is the one the Holy Spirit is working to bring alive in our hearts. So what other priority could we have?”

Bishop Gilbert is replaced as Abbot of Pluscarden by Dom Anselm Atkinson.