AN EXPLANATION has been given for the sudden disappearance of
the Abbot of Alton, the Rt Revd Dom William Hughes OSB, from Alton
Abbey, in Hampshire (above). He has retired.
The abbey is in the middle of a financial crisis, having
disclosed three weeks ago that its "critical" position meant the
introduction of austerity measures to protect its future (News, 16
The week after the announcement, Abbot Hughes, a member of the
Benedictine community for 43 years, and Abbot for the past two,
wrote to the Church Times thanking readers for their many
offers of support: "We are asking for prayer to reinforce our own
prayer for what will be an exacting journey to financial recovery.
We have faith that all will be well, with much hard work."
The Church Times published the letter last Friday, but
by that time Fr Hughes was no longer at the abbey. He did not
preside at the conventual mass on the previous Friday, and the
abbey congregation was told, on Sunday 25 August, that he had
resigned. No explanation was given, although people were told that
his departure was not connected with the financial situation.
Br Andreas Lightfoot OSB, who is supervising the abbey's
response to the financial crisis, said this week: "We had
absolutely no idea that this was coming. It came as a complete
The timing of the Abbot's departure, its suddenness, and the
lack of explanation had inevitably led to speculation among the
oblates and the abbey congregation, Br Andreas said. "But I can
assure you that the one matter was nothing to do with the
This was confirmed by Fr Hughes late on Tuesday. He is now
living in a flat nearby. "After 43 years, I got to the age of 65,
retirement age, and I felt I wanted to experience something else in
my life, to explore other things, follow other pursuits."
His birthday had been in May, and he had been contemplating a
move since then, he said. He had prayed about it, and discussed it
with senior members of the community. "I'm not having any kind of
crisis, a male menopause, or anything like that. I just needed a
life-change. It really is as simple as that."
He agreed that the timing had been "rather inopportune", but
described this as "coincidental". "I did not leave under any kind
of shadow, or with any bad feeling. On the contrary. We're still
great friends, and parted in Christian love."
He had had no direct contact with the abbey finances, he said.
"The community gives a vow of obedience to its abbot, and so there
is a safety factor built in." The money had been dealt with by the
bursar, the assistant bursar, and an outside accountant. "I was
just presented with the accounts."
He left confident that the community was tackling its financial
problems. "I've told them that I shall keep in touch, and that I'm
available to help in any way."
His plans were still uncertain, he said. He is living on a state
pension. The move had certainly not been caused by anything
negative: "It's just one of life's mysteries. Some things you can't
explain fully." He remains in vows.
On Monday, the community re-elected the former abbot, the Rt
Revd Dom Giles Hill OSB, as Abbot Hughes's successor. There is to
be a meeting this weekend to co-ordinate responses to the financial
position. Br Andreas said that they wanted to establish a degree of
sustainability before making any formal appeal for help.