Vatican official warns Lambeth Conference to beware of 'spiritual Alzheimers'

Cardinal Ivan Dias / Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams. Photo © Lambeth Conference
Cardinal Ivan Dias / Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams. Photo © Lambeth Conference


The Anglican bishops assembled for the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England heard a speech from the Catholic Cardinal Ivan Dias on Tuesday night. The cardinal appealed to the bishops to maintain unity and said that those who live “short-sightedly rooted in the fleeting present, oblivious to our past legacy and apostolic traditions” are suffering from “a sort of spiritual Alzheimers.”

Cardinal Dias, who is in charge of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, made his comments in a speech entitled, “Proclaiming the Good News: the bishop and evangelism.”

As the Anglican Communion struggles with the wide-ranging views on the ordination of homosexuals and women, Cardinal Dias offered some insights on dialogue. “Dialogue,” he said, “does not mean imposing or relinquishing one’s ideas but listening to what the others have to say.” Real dialogue “means instead that, while holding on to what we believe in, we are willing to respectfully listen to the others, in an attempt to make out all that is good and holy, all that promotes peace and cooperation.”

“Unity and cohesion among the members of the Church, between them and their pastors, and above all among the pastors themselves” is a prerequisite for the Holy Spirit to still be able to work and spread the Gospel across the world, he told the bishops. If instead “diversity escalates into division, it becomes a counter-testimony and seriously undermines the image and commitment” of the Churches to spreading the Gospel.”

“Diseases such as Alzheimer and Parkinson are widely spoken of today,” said the cardinal. “Similarly, their symptoms can also be found in our Christian communities. For instance, when we live short-sightedly rooted into the fleeting present, oblivious to our past legacy and apostolic traditions, we might be suffering from a sort of spiritual Alzheimers. And when we behave disorderly, moving eccentrically along our walk with no coordination with the head or the other members of our community, that might be a sort of ecclesial Parkinson.”

The Vatican official’s words echo the reaction of the Vatican to the Church of England’s recent decision to approve the ordination of women as bishops, while at the same time voting down safeguards for parishes that rejected the change. When the mother Church of the Anglican Communion voted for the change, Rome reacted by saying, “Such a decision signifies a break with the apostolic tradition maintained by all of the Churches since the first millennium and is, therefore, a further obstacle to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England.”

Cardinal Dias also addressed the challenges faced by evangelizers in modern society, the cardinal explained. He pointed to secularism, “which tries to build a God-less society,”  “spiritual indifference that is insensitive to transcendental values,” and “relativism,” which “is against the permanent doctrine of the Gospel.” These societal trends, Cardinal Dias warned, accelerate the spreading of a “culture of death.”

Among the manifestations of this culture of death are “deliberate abortion (or the massacre of innocent unborn children),” “divorce, which kills the sacred bond of marriage blessed by God,” and “social, economic and political injustice.”

Protecting society from this culture requires that the family and the young be defended since they are “especially vulnerable.” In the face of this onslaught, “Christians cannot sit on the fence and be passive onlookers” but must be “Faithful to our call to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, we must be proactive in reading the signs of the time,” the prelate told the Anglican leaders.

Cardinal Dias stressed that “what the world needs today” is the testimony of Christians and quoted Pope John Paul II, saying, “our peers believe witnesses more than the teachers.”

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