List of circular Letters by Dom Ambrose


Roma, Curia Generalizia

Viale Africa 33


Document for General Chapter 1987


You will have read in the report of MMP 1 (p.74) that the Abbot General has decided to ask the General Chapter of 1987 to accept his resignation and that he promised to write a paper to explain this decision. Here is the paper.

Firstly, let me rule out some false ideas. I am not offering my resignation because I am:

1 - Tired                      If that were the case a good month's holiday would be sufficient remedy.

2 - Sick                       Thank God my health remains satisfactory.

3 - Bored                    On the contrary, the office is always interesting and challenging.

4 - Discouraged        Despite my faults and failings I am not discouraged and the Order seems reasonably pleased with my efforts.

So why should I resign? To understand this you have to try to imagine what it is like to be Abbot General. He spends his time either in Rome or visiting the various monasteries.

When at Rome he is not in a monastery but at the Generalate. It is a nice house and the community is pleasant but there is a lot to be done: attending meetings, writing letters, answering phone calls or seeing various people. We do not sing the Office or the Mass. Time for lectio and prayer is a bare minimum.

When visiting the monasteries there is the general fatigue of constant travelling, the need to spend most of the day talking or keeping up with correspondence. The Abbot General is always treated as a special guest. Once again there is very little time for reading and prayer.

In other words, although he is a monk and can rest assured that it is God's will for him to be living as he is, the Abbot General is certainly not living a monastic life. For the first six or seven years this type of life may not have much effect on him since normally he has 25 or 30 years of monastic experience on which to fall back. But as the years go by the effect of this past experience grows weaker. He is constantly being drained spiritually and physically with little chance of adequate renewal. The consequences of all this after about 12 or 13 years are that the Abbot General has lost contact with the "grass roots" of community living, he can't speak of monastic life from a lived personal experience and there is a certain "burn out" (which is a totally different thing from being tired). It would seem at this point that the Order has need of someone much closer to the roots and lived experience of our life. One who can bring new blood and a fresh vision of things.

In conclusion I would like to add a few remarks which are not real arguments but which have a certain persuasive force. Since the union of the three Congregations in 1892 only one Abbot General has held the office for more than 13 1/2 years - Dom Augustin Marre who was on for 18 years. But if I am correctly informed he spent most of his time in his own monastery. (Sébastien Wyart 12 yrs; J.-B.Ollitraut 7 yrs; Herman-Joseph Smets 13 1/2 yrs; Dominique Nogues 5 yrs; Gabriel Sortais 12 Yrs; Ignace Gillet 10 yrs). At the next General Chapter I will have been 13 1/2 yrs Abbot General and over 28 years an abbot. It is no argument to say that St Benedict in his Rule expected an Abbot to be for life, since the Abbot General is not the Abbot of a monastery. Nor may one argue that the Abbot General is Father of the Order and a Father doesn't resign, since this idea of his office is a pious fiction with no foundation in law and fact.

It may be argued that it takes an Abbot General 5 or 6 years to get to know the Order and it would be a pity to resign when he has 12 or 13 years experience of the Order. This has weight, but it depends to some extent on one's view of what one should expect from the Abbot General. Is he an administrator or primarily an "animator"?

Please pray that the General Chapter will be wise in its decision and that everyone will accept what it decides.

Ambrose Southey