“There are Benedictines, and then there are Benedictines,” says Fr Hugh Somerville-Knapman, who believes he is the latter, according to the Catholic Leader.
It’s only mostly true, since Fr Hugh is talking to The Catholic Leader through Skype on his Macbook while on holidays with his older brother in Sydney.
Fr Hugh admits that St Benedict’s precepts on poverty – or more specifically, private ownership – was something of a challenge for him.
“That’s a challenge because modern monks, we do have our own things, you know I’ve got this computer I’m talking to you on, and indeed I couldn’t do half the work I do without a computer,” he said. "So I do find that a challenge because I do find that as a monk I am, historically speaking, fairly pampered.”
The Benedictine priest of 10 years found his priestly vocation in high school, after his Jesuit headmaster at St Aloysius’ College, Sydney, Fr Anthony Smith asked him when he was joining the order.
It “opened the floodgates” to a short discernment with the Jesuits, but was soon foiled by well-known archivist Errol Lea-Scarlett, who expressed that he “had no idea why” Fr Hugh was a Jesuit when clearly he would suit the English Benedictines better. The seed was planted and, in 2000, Fr Hugh joined the Douai Abbey in England.
He fell into the new evangelisation by accident, after being labelled the go-to monk for computer issues in the abbey.
“I pretty much got into computers in the three years before I joined the monastery when I worked for the police in Sydney in the communications branch,” Fr Hugh said. “So everything was on computers, and one of my good friends, younger than I was, he could do anything on a computer, so I just learnt off him, pretty much.”
In 2010 he started his blog Dominus mihi adjutor (Latin for “The Lord is my help”) for personal therapy. “I find the whole art of writing and preparing something very useful for clarifying thoughts and making things coherent,” Fr Hugh said.
Topics he has sought to clarify include the “crisis” over Amoris Laetitia, his “muted” optimism of the state of diplomacy in leadership, Brexit, and the Orlando nightclub massacre, among others.
Fr Hugh believes the digital culture has forced the Church to clarify its teachings and moral positions on global and national events publicly.
“Especially in a pontificate under Pope Francis, issues are far more live and flammable than they used to be because errors and misinformation spreads so much more, and people have the ability to fact check, or people don’t fact check at all,” he said.
"We have a far more informed laity than we have ever had before, and I think that’s what makes so many things more highly charged than they used to be. You have to make an argument that stands the test of scrutiny.”