Compared to the usual formalities of ecumenical conversations, which include carefully worded assurances of mutual regard, the statement last month from the Vatican on the proper use of the term “sister churches” was exceedingly blunt. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in a statement approved by John Paul II, told Roman Catholics that they should not call Protestant churches “sister churches” since that phrase implies equality. The Catholic position is that there is only one true church of Jesus Christ, and its bishop is in Rome. Protestant churches, Ratzinger reminded his flock, are “ecclesial communities,” not “churches in the proper sense.”
Doubtless, Ratzinger was much more concerned about setting Catholics straight on their own doctrine than he was about offending Protestants—hence the blunt language. Perhaps what’s most significant here is that there are enough Catholics who take another view of the matter to prompt Ratzinger to take action.