Catholics for a Changing Church

"To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often" - Bl. John Henry Newman

 

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A FRIAR PREACHER who would not compromise the truth

 

Giles Hibbert [1923-2013]

Giles Hibbert died a member of the Order of Preachers, whose motto is 'Veritas' or 'Truth' and lived a live devoted to witnessing to the truth and setting it uncompromisingly before others.   This commitment to truth meant both some initial alienation from his Protestant family (his father, Major General Hugh Hibbert DSO, was the local squire and read the lesson at Matins in the local parish church) as well as some trials for his brethren in the order over the years.  He came from a family of admirals and generals and was brought up in a country house in Wiltshire surrounded by servants.  His grandfather on his mother's side was a grandson of the third Marquess of Bath, a fact he would be mortified to have brought to public attention, as for many years he was an active Marxist, like the notorious 'red' Dean of Canterbury, and frequently travelled to Eastern Europe under the Communists.   

He was one of the fifty-five priests who wrote to the The Times in August 1968 to show their disapproval of Pope Paul VI's unilateral declaration, in the face of the opposition of the papal commission, of Humanae Vitae.  A battle with the Inquisition  resulted in an editorial about him in The Guardian of which he was ever afterwards immensely proud.   Similarly he was uncompromising about his homosexuality, playing a major public role in the founding of what was then the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, one of the few clergymen to do so and certainly the only RC one.

He had always supported CCC from its foundation in 1969 as the Catholic Renewal Movement and perhaps his most useful contribution to it was his taking over CCC's  publications in 1998.  By 2010, he had produced over fifty different booklets by writers as diverse as James Alison, Paul Collins, Eamon Duffy, Rafael Esteban, Sean Fagan, Paul Hypher, Nicholas Lash, Pat Pinsent, Elizabeth Price, Frank Regan, Cathy Scott, Joseph Seferta, Clare Short, Adrian Smith, Jack Spong, John Wijngaards and Rowan Williams.   Six of his own titles featured in CCC's list and his support was greatly appreciated by the movement.

Born in 1923, Robert Hibbert was educated at Uppingham and was an officer during the war.  Originally trained at Cambridge as a civil engineer, he entered the Dominicans after becoming a Catholic and abandoning his advanced engineering studies.  He was sent to study at Louvain and moved on to Oxford where he completed a doctorate.  By his own account (RENEW 120) he had a number of run-ins with ecclesiastical authority, all of which he survived.    This was in no small part due to the support which his order gave him but also to the fact that Giles had a brilliant mind and was nobody's fool.

After some time teaching at Blackfriars Oxford and in the university, where he taught Plato and Aristotle as well as Hebrew and Biblical Studies, he was appointed chaplain to the Catholics at Sheffield university where he spent eight fulfilling and rewarding years.  After two years as chaplain at York University, he ended up living alone in a small house in the Peak district which the order bought for him.  He became very active as chaplain to the local Newman circle.  From there he ran Blackfriars Publications, set up in 1993 under the patronage of Timothy Radcliffe, until his health forced him to return to live in community.   In 2009 he moved to the Dominican House on Haverstock Hill in London and in December 2012 to Cambridge where he had a happy final year of life.  

As he readily admitted, he was not a community man.   Indeed, on his return to community life in London another member of the community stopped him in the corridor and said “I don't like you Giles.  You have always been a bully,” to which Giles truthfully responded, “Yes, you are right.  I am sorry!”   He had mellowed from being a highly combative and even serious troublemaker, who deeply hurt and offended many people, to becoming more capable of demonstrating the deep humility he had, which only an attack on the truth as he saw it could allow his blazing guns to conceal.   He had a wide group of friends and will be sorely missed.                                                                                                                                           

Simon Bryden-Brook

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