A subset of Church leaders have aligned themselves with modern-day values in the name of a “contemporary culture” that is akin to paganism, Cardinal Robert Sarah said in an address in Cameroon last week.

Sarah, who was addressing members of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC) on April 9, said the Church was experiencing what he described as “practical atheism.”

“Many Western prelates are tetanized [paralyzed] by the idea of opposing the world. They dream of being loved by the world; they’ve lost the desire to be a sign of contradiction,” the Guinean-born cardinal lamented during his address to NECC members on the second day of their 49th Plenary Assembly at the headquarters of NECC in Mvolyé in the Archdiocese of Yaoundé.

“I believe that the Church of our time is experiencing the temptation of atheism,” he said. “Not intellectual atheism, but that subtle and dangerous state of mind: fluid and practical atheism. The latter is a dangerous disease, even if its initial symptoms seem benign.”

“We need to be aware of it; this fluid atheism runs through the veins of contemporary culture. It never says its name but infiltrates everything, even ecclesiastical discourse. Its first effect is a kind of lethargy of faith. It anesthetizes our ability to react, to recognize error and danger; it has spread throughout the Church,” he said.

In essence, the fluid and practical atheism, Sarah said, seeks “a compromise between truth and lies. This is the major temptation of our time.”

The cardinal, who until his retirement in February 2021 was serving as prefect of the Vatican Congregation (now Dicastery) for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, said he found it regrettable that Church leaders have given room to the vice of "fluid and practical atheism."

“We are all guilty of accommodating, of complicity with this major lie that is fluid and practical atheism,” he said. “We pretend to be Christian believers and men of faith; we celebrate religious rites, but in fact we live as pagans and unbelievers.” 

According to Sarah, “fluid and practical atheism is elusive and slimy. If you attack it, it will entangle you in its subtle compromises. It’s like a spider’s web — the more you struggle against it, the tighter it gets on you. Fluid and practical atheism is the ultimate trap of the tempter of Satan.”

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He decried “dissension and suspicion,” saying that these vices are “everywhere” in the Church. “Fluid and practical atheism lives and feeds on all our little weaknesses, all our capitulations, and compromises with its lie.”

“We don’t have to create parties in the Church; we don’t have to proclaim ourselves the saviors of this or that institution. All that would contribute to the adversary’s game. But each of us can decide today: The lie of atheism will no longer pass through me; I no longer wish to renounce the light of faith; I no longer wish, out of convenience, laziness, or conformism, to allow light and darkness to cohabit within me,” he said.

The 78-year-old cardinal continued, referring to the decision to embrace the light of faith: “If everyone humbly decided to do so, the system of lies would collapse of its own accord, because its only strength is the place we give it within ourselves.”

“To keep the spirit of faith is to renounce all that compromises it, to refuse to see things in any other way than through faith. It means keeping our hand in God’s hand. I deeply believe that this is the only possible source of peace and gentleness,” the cardinal said.

“Keeping our hand in God’s hand is the guarantee of true benevolence without complicity, true gentleness without cowardice, true strength without violence,” he continued.

Sarah went on to decry “bitterness and partisanship” that he said have “infested” the Church.

“Only the spirit of faith can form the basis of genuine fraternal benevolence. The world is dying, eaten away by lies and rivalry. Only the spirit of faith can bring it peace,” Sarah said.

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On April 4, Sarah called upon the lay faithful of Cameroon’s Diocese of Obala to prioritize prayer in their daily tasks.

The following day, on April 5, he presided over the priestly ordination of 12 men, whom he urged to live their vocation to priesthood “attentive to the flock.”

Sarah also urged Catholic bishops in Africa to be keen on defending the Catholic faith, voicing their opposition to defenders of “particular cultures” during the October session of the ongoing Synod on Synodality.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.