BY DAVID V BARRETT
CARDINAL Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for Evangelisation, has told bishops assembled at the Lambeth Conference that they are heading towards "spiritual Alzheimer's" and "ecclesial Parkinson's".
His comments appear to be an emphatic criticism of the decision to ordain women bishops and openly gay clergy in some parts of the Anglican Communion.
He said: "Much is spoken today of diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. By analogy, their symptoms can, at times, be found even in our own Christian communities. For example, when we live myopically in the fleeting present, oblivious of 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 ecclesial Parkinson's."
Cardinal Dias is part of a high-profile Catholic delegation at Lambeth which includes Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.
Mgr Mark Langham, former administrator of Westminster Cathedral, is also present at the conference. He was appointed to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity earlier this year.
Cardinal Dias's dramatic intervention follows a letter from the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone which was given to everyone attending the conference.
He told the bishops that Benedict XVI was praying for them, adding: "You may be certain that many Catholic brothers and sisters join him in commending the participants in the conference to the loving care of our heavenly Father."
But he also warned of "a grave challenge to the hope for full and visible unity" between the Anglican Communion and Catholic Church. He referred to "new issues that have arisen in our relationship" clearly referring to the problems over women bishops and gay clergy.
The conference, held at the University of Kent in Canterbury, is attended by more than 600 bishops. As well as Anglicans, there are bishops from a number of churches in communion with the Anglican community, including the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht.
A further 230 bishops a quarter of those invited ate boycotting the conference in protest at the Anglican Communion not disciplining the American Episcopalian Church for consecrating the openly gay Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham urged Catholics to pray for the success of the Lambeth Conference. Speaking from Australia, where he took part in World Youth Day, the archbishop said: "A weakened Anglican Communion, or Church of England, does not help the proclamation of the Christian faith."