The Vatican struck a great blow to ecumenical relations in reaffirming their doubts about the validity of the Protestant Churches (in these we are included) and in officially ordering Roman Catholic Bishops to not use the term "Sister Churches" in referring to them. An official note from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregations for the Doctrine of Faith, warns that to describe protestant churches (us included) as "Sister Churches" can cause ambiguity.
Another document, Dominus Iesus, about the universal Salvation of Jesus Christ and the Church, also published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith declares that the churches (in their understanding) do not have a valid episcopate and a genuine integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, therefore, are not churches in the true sense of the term.
The two documents suggest a distinction between, on the one hand, the Roman and Orthodox churches which, according to Rome, are related, and on the other hand, the protestant communities (including the Anglican Communion). Both documents notably avoid using the word "church" when referring to the protestants, using instead the term, "ecclesial communities" which does not involve commitment.
The first reaction I had was of perplexity and discouragement in our struggle toward ecumenicity. I was encouraged by the advances of the Toronto Meeting in Canada, when I received this shocking news.
Nevertheless, as I began to think more about it, I concluded lamentably, the evils of a renegade institutionalism, that attacks whatever church (ours is not exempt from this) causes the catholic side of Christianity to fall into a structural fundamentalism, that is, the maintenance of a "complex Christianity". The protestant side fall into a biblical and moralistic fundamentalism. And our churches, with this, end up as "ghettos" divorced from reality and feeds the sick character that assaults so many people in humanity today.
William James, famous north American philosopher at the beginning of the century, said in his book, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," that there are two types of religion: that of the "healthy mind" and that of the "sick mind". The latter is what grows with great facility. Humanity, unfortunately, is in the majority, a sick humanity and what appeals are those religions that stimulate our morbid and sick side. The sociologists say that one of the reasons for this is that humanity is passing from the industrial stage to a post-industrial stage.
Alvin Toffler speaks of the famous 3rd wave. There are people who still live within the parameters of the 1st wave (the agricultural society); others still very much rooted in the 2nd wave (the industrial society).
As there still exists a process of adaptation to the 3rd wave (the post-industrial or cybernetic society), the majority of people, in order to deal with their insecurity take refuge in dictated religious precepts or in a biblical fundamentalism (the Bible becomes the dictate of God and is therefore, not subject to error) or structural (only one church or religious organization has he truth), or moralistic (the moral code is what says acritically this is right, this is wrong).
The new world into which we are entering is a world that is going to require a great deal of creativity of the human being. The human being will be more autonomous, not only in his work, but in leisure, as in orienting his life. Thus we are going to have to recognize that God is not an authoritarian or dogmatic Father, but a companion Father, who manifests himself through his children, who are co-participants with Him in the work of Creation.
In fact, I am convinced that the unity of Christians, the unity of Humanity is a construction that is being done in the local bases of the churches and not in their hierarchies, no matter how good these may be. Thus independent from decrees, encyclicals etc let us continue our construction, that is a process of love oriented by the Holy Spirit that manifests itself in us.
The Most Revd Glauco Soares De Lima
Primate of Brasil