THE Minister Provincial of the European Province of the Third Order Society of St Francis, Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, has resigned with immediate effect. Professor Hacker Hughes has expressed “huge sadness” at having to take such action, and has called the culture and dynamic of the Provincial Chapter “chronically toxic”.
Two other Chapter members — the Novice Guardian and the Formation Guardian — have also subsequently resigned.
Professor Hacker Hughes, a clinical psychologist and past president of the British Psychological Society, was elected in 2017. At the Convocation of the European Province that year, he declared: “The Order must be rooted in the past, living in the present, but with our eye on the future. . . We must be visible, vocal. People need to know about us. . . This is the time to be out there and seen” (News, 26 May 2017).
Tertiaries commit themselves to a Rule of Life while living in their own homes, working in the community, and caring for their families. In a letter addressed to Sisters and Brothers in the European Province, Professor Hacker Hughes writes of the hope for change with which he took up the office, and says that — in an Order secret until 30 years ago — some things have changed for the better, including “more visibility, less hiddenness, greater confidence”.
But, he writes, one thing has not changed: “The culture and dynamic of Provincial Chapter is still, as many former Ministers Provincial and former Chapter officers have observed for many years now, chronically toxic.
“I had genuinely hoped that my servant leadership might help to bring about change, but unfortunately recent events have culminated in a situation where I no longer have trust and confidence in the Provincial Chapter, and it no longer has trust and confidence in me.”
Professor Hacker Hughes describes his resignation as “the only honourable, simple, and humble thing to do”. He expresses the hope that the Chapter, “ever seeking to emulate Francis, will seek the professional help, advice, and input that it so badly needs, and has badly needed for so long, to break free of these fetters and move forward”. He asks forgiveness for any mistakes that he has made as Minister which might have caused harm.
The matter is now sub judice, and there is no indication of what prompted the resignation, which followed a Chapter meeting. The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, who is Bishop Protector of the Society of St Francis, said in a statement on Tuesday of last week that he had been made aware of the disquiet in the Province since the meeting.
“These are clearly unhappy times, and there is a need to act in some way,” he said. “I am working with the Revd John Hebenton TSSF, the Minister General for the worldwide Third Order, to find a way forward. We are currently taking advice and carefully considering what would be the most helpful way of bringing reconciliation.”
Third Order Principles, he said, made them mindful that “all involved — including myself — need to take time to ensure we take the beam from our own eyes before offering to remove the speck from another by making judgements.”