African cardinal says Western prelates have lost their nerve

African cardinal says Western prelates have lost their nerve Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah answers questions in the US. (CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)

An African cardinal widely seen as a conservative critic of Pope Francis, and styled by some as possible candidate for the papacy himself, has warned of what he described as a “practical atheism” taking hold within the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea also repeated his criticism of Fiducia Supplicans, the recent Vatican document authorising blessings of couples involved in same-sex unions, insisting that it’s not just traditional African culture but Catholic teaching itself which makes the document unacceptable.

Speaking to the episcopal conference of Cameroon, Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, the Vatican’s former top official for liturgy, criticised Western bishops for their reluctance to oppose secular worldly values, accusing them of a failure of nerve.

“Many Western prelates are tetanised 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,” said the 78-year-old Sarah.

Sarah told the Cameroonian bishops he believes “the Church of our time is experiencing the temptation of atheism. Not intellectual atheism, but that subtle and dangerous state of mind [of] fluid and practical atheism”.

“The latter is a dangerous disease, even if its initial symptoms seem benign,” he said. According to Sarah, practical atheism is more insidious than its intellectual counterpart, as it does not declare itself openly but seeps into every aspect of contemporary culture, including ecclesiastical discourse.

He asserted that the Church and its leadership has been guilty of “accommodating, of complicity with this major lie that is fluid and practical atheism”. “We pretend to be Christian believers and men of faith.

We celebrate religious rites, but in fact we live as pagans and unbelievers,” Sarah said. Sarah described “fluid and practical atheism” as a treacherous and elusive force. He compared it to being caught in a spider’s web, where efforts to escape only tighten its grip. This brand of atheism, he argues, is a masterful trap set by Satan himself.

Referring to the October 2024 session of the ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality, Sarah praised the spirited defence African Church leaders have mounted of traditional doctrine and values. “At the last Synod, the Church in Africa forcefully defended the dignity of the man and woman created by God. Her voice was ignored and scorned by those whose sole obsession is to please Western lobbies,” Sarah said.