Other churches are no sisters of ours, the Vatican insists

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The Independent Online

The Vatican has decreed that the Catholic Church is the "mother of all churches" and banned the term "sister churches" to describe other denominations, in two new documents that could harm Vatican efforts towards unity with other believers.

The Vatican has decreed that the Catholic Church is the "mother of all churches" and banned the term "sister churches" to describe other denominations, in two new documents that could harm Vatican efforts towards unity with other believers.

In a letter to bishops worldwide on Saturday, Pope John Paul II's chief theological adviser, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said it was incorrect to call Christian churches, ranging from Protestant to Orthodox, "sister churches" of the Catholic Church.

The Cardinal said the term was "sloppy terminology" and could not be used to describe Christian communities that were not actually in communion with Rome. "It must be always clear that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic universal church is not the sister, but the mother of all the churches," the cardinal said.

"It's evident that it would go against the faith to consider the [Catholic] church as 'one' way of salvation 'alongside' those represented by other religions."

A second document by the cardinal, which will be published tomorrow, says the term "church" may be applied to Orthodox churches, which broke away from Rome 1,000 years ago, but not to those that broke away at the time of the Protestant Reformation, because they are not "churches in the proper sense".

The phrase "sister church" is already widely used in dialogue aimed at fostering closer ties among Christians of other denominations - one of the Pope's main goals in Christianity's third millennium. However, the cardinal's ban has the 80-year-old pontiff's approval. The ban is expected to arouse strong criticism among churchmen, both Catholic and Protestant, working for Christian unity.

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