Following comments from a cardinal that have caused controversy, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has welcomed the presence of a delegation from the Roman Catholic Church at the 2008 Lambeth Conference - writes Trevor Grunday.
Speaking during a 24 July 2008 interview on the BBC, Williams described as "very important" the words of Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Vatican's Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, who had hit the headlines in several British newspapers with his remarks that some Western churches live "myopically in the fleeting present".
"The more Anglicans and Catholics are able to study issues together and to discern an appropriate gospel response, the stronger will be the impact of their mission endeavours," said Dias in an evening address to the main gathering of the 650 bishops on 23 July.
The cardinal said, "When we live myopically in the fleeting present, oblivious to our past heritage and apostolic traditions, we could well be suffering from spiritual Alzheimer's. 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 ecclesiastical Parkinson's [disease]."
The Indian-born cardinal also described modern secularism as being engaged in "spiritual combat with the Church".
The Times newspaper on 24 July headlined a story on his remarks: "Anglican Church may have spiritual Alzheimer's, says cardinal." The story said Dias "suggested" the connection of the ailment to the Anglican church. But a Lambeth Conference source told Ecumenical News International that the cardinal made no specific mention of either the Anglican communion or any other religious organization.
Williams on 24 July described what the cardinal had said as "an odd analogy" but added, "I guess what he was saying was that we're perhaps inclined to ignore the legacy of the past and how it can be positively deployed in the present. I think that what he said at the conference was in many ways very important, and to have somebody from outside the Anglican communion giving, affirming, a challenging presentation is a very important part of our work this week."
A substantial Catholic delegation is attending the Lambeth Conference.
Other Catholic leaders who are expected to make an appearance at the gathering include Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Catholic leader in England and Wales, and Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The Catholic delegation is particularly interested, say church sources, to see how the Archbishop of Canterbury will work to avoid a schism in the 77-million strong Anglican communion because of a growing split over the issues of women bishops and the consecration of V Gene Robinson, an openly gay divorced father who lives with a male partner as Bishop of New Hampshire in the United States.
The Times newspaper reported, meanwhile, that advocacy organizations on behalf of those with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease had issued a statement criticising what Cardinal Dias had said.
"Seeing the challenges faced by people with Parkinson's disease or dementia trivialised by comments from such a prominent public figure is demoralising," said the joint statement. "People with dementia and Parkinson's face the challenge of coping with a physical condition which slowly robs them of their lives. These comments serve to reinforce negative stereotypes surrounding these devastating conditions."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]
The new book Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow, is published by Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia.