A high-ranking Vatican Cardinal Tuesday called for greater unity between Anglicans and Catholics but at the same time gave veiled advice that the Anglican Communion must address deep division within its ranks.
Evangelization is “possible in the measure in which there is unity and cohesion between the members of the Church, between them and their shepherds, and, above all, between the shepherds themselves, both within the community as well as with the other Christian confessions,” Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Rome-based Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, told the world’s Anglican bishops gathered here for the Lambeth Conference.
Cardinal Dias, who addressed the conference at Tuesday night’s plenary, said, “In the present ecumenical framework in which Providence has willed to engage the churches, a unity which binds them together in the apostolic faith is intrinsic to the Church’s mission of speaking and spreading the gospel. Hence, when they are of one mind and heart, notwithstanding their diversity, their missionary thrust is indeed enhanced and strengthened. But, when the diversity degenerates into division, it becomes a counter-witness which seriously compromises their image and endeavours to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
The greater Anglicans and Catholics are able to “study issues together and to discern an appropriate gospel response, the stronger the impact of their work in mission will be,” said Cardinal Dias. ” Someone has rightly said in a humorous vein: ‘If Christians do not hang together, they will hang separately..’ It is obvious that a united effort would certainly strengthen the implementation of Christ’s mandate to preach the gospel to every creature.”
Anglicans and Catholics “could start with the points which unite the two churches, and slowly strive to clarify their approaches and to perfect their attempts to harmonize their mission efforts,” said Cardinal Dias.
He also warned churches against “ecclesial Parkinson’s;” of living “myopically in the fleeting present, oblivious of our past heritage and apostolic traditions, we could well be suffering from spiritual Alzheimer’s.” He added: “And when we behave in a disorderly manner, going whimsically our own way without any co-ordination with the head or the other members of our community, it could be ecclesial Parkinson’s.”
David Beetge, bishop of the diocese of Highveld, South Africa and co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Working Group, welcomed Cardinal Dias’ statements. “I think the cardinal opened the way for two things… he was saying there are many things we can do together, and that “the theological dialogue should still continue.”
Asked whether the cardinal was referring to any particular provinces in the Communion as having “spiritual Alzheimer’s,” he said, “I think what he was saying is …part of our life is the tradition, and tradition is one of the voices that has to come to a table where we discover what is right and real for us today. So often we just take the present context into account and yet we’ve got these thousands of years of Anglicanism and all of that and we are part of the catholic church that has to take the history into account as we seek to determine and understand what scripture is saying to us today.”
Asked whether Cardinal Dias was giving advice to Anglicans to set their house in order, Bishop Beetge said, “I think he may well have. But I think the attendance of several ecumenical partners here is saying something to the Anglican Church: ‘We take you seriously…the incredible turnout is saying we’re not just going to leave; we want you to hold together. We want you to find a way forward that’s mature. And is able to hold this communion together.”
A native of Mumbai, Cardinal Dias, once described as a strong candidate for the papacy, has been described by the National Catholic Reporter as “traditional and conservative in outlook, which separates him from the mainstream of the Indian episcopacy and theological community, known for its embrace of religious pluralism and a progressive stance on social questions.”