Not too long ago a brilliant interview with Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ about ecumenical relations between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches was published. Unfortunately, immediately after it was released it was met by a backlash of extreme views. It seems his comments that referred to the Orthodox churches as "Sister churches" became an inconvenient truth that many people did not want to hear. However, despite the ideologies that seek to undermine his views the way he used the term "Sister church" is 100% in line with how the Catholic Church relates to the Orthodox churches. It makes you wonder if his critics are just not well informed about the official Catholic ecumenical relations with the Orthodox.
When it comes to the proper use of the term "Sister church" for Catholics the official use is described by the CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH in question 4 from RESPONSES TO SOME QUESTIONS REGARDING CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE DOCTRINE ON THE CHURCH. In reference to the terms use by ecumenists since the Vatican II council the former inquisitors said the following:” The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. “Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all – because of the apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds”, they merit the title of “particular or local Churches”, and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches”. Based on this the use of term designates the real familial sense of the word sister. As a result, Catholics can legitimately say that Orthodox and Catholic churches come from the same mother and even though our relationship is estranged our churches belong to the One Church of Christ.
The sad fact, which the (CDF) also points out, is that because of the estrangement that we Catholics share with the Orthodox the “the fullness of universality “of the Church is not yet realized. I think this realization as taught by the former inquisitors demonstrates a fact that makes many Catholics uncomfortable, which the Archimandrite himself speaks of when he says ”we are no longer the only kid on the block, the whole Church of Christ, but one Sister Church among others”. Some have claimed that what the Archimandrite said is an innovation of his part and doesn’t officially represent the Catholic Church. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth based on the following statement from the Balamand Declaration (par. 13), which is about the Catholic and Orthodox churches not holding the exclusive rights to be known as the only true churches of Jesus Christ: “On each side it is recognized that what Christ has entrusted to his Church - profession of apostolic faith, participation in the same sacraments, above all the one priesthood celebrating the one sacrifice of Christ, the apostolic succession of bishops - cannot be considered the exclusive property of one of our Churches". For those that don’t know the Balamand agreement represents the current relations that Catholics hold with the Orthodox churches. As an official agreement it demonstrates that the Archimandrite represents well the mind of the Catholic Church.
The Archimandrite once said in another place that “"I have spent my entire life trying to build bridges to Orthodoxy. The world is full of people who are bridge destroyers. They want to destroy the bridges that already exist. That’s not me. I want to reach out to other people." Obviously, his recent critics demonstrate well the desire to destroy the bridges that now exist between Orthodox and Catholics. However, unlike them he is not ignorant of the history of the Church or the current official relationship between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. To those Catholics that would oppose him I would encourage you to embrace the true teachings of your church. It might be difficult to recognize that you are not the only “kid on the block” but it is necessary in order to achieve the healing that we all need.