German Protestants have pulled out of a project to revise a common German Bible translation because Catholics want to follow Vatican instructions to return to language closer to the ancient Latin.

The quarrel, which broke out despite pledges from Pope Benedict XVI to improve ties with other churches, has led to a sharp exchange between top prelates from both sides. Cardinal Karl Lehmann called it a "considerable strain" on relations.

The dispute highlights the problems facing the pope in his German homeland and the sensitivity that endures five centuries after the Reformation, when Martin Luther rebelled against Rome and produced the first German translation of the Bible.

Lutheran Bishop Wolfgang Huber, who had a friendly meeting with Benedict last month, said Protestants would resist Catholic efforts to impose the Vatican directive to make prayers and Bible passages conform more to standard Latin texts.

"Ecumenical cooperation in German-speaking countries has suffered a bitter setback," Radio Vatican commented in its report on the dispute.

The Vatican effort also has caused tensions in the English- speaking world, where bishops have criticized it for scrapping inclusive language and imposing awkward or archaic translations.

Among the changes the directive would implement is restoring such gender-specific terms as "all men," which was replaced in recent years by "all people." It also states that translators must not soften phrases that could offend Jews.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper defended the German Protestants, saying they had made concessions to Catholics for years on the Bible project and could no longer let themselves be "dictated to by Rome."

The dispute has its roots in a 2001 Vatican directive called Liturgiam authenticam, meant to standardize the wording of Catholic prayers in local languages and end what conservatives saw as excessive experimentation in translating from Latin.

Before he was elected pope, Benedict partly blamed modern translations for the drop in attendance at Sunday Mass after the church switched from Latin to local languages in the 1960s.

German Catholics and Protestants produced a common Bible translation in the 1980s and long have used it in ecumenical services.

The directive states that the revision must conform mostly to a Latin translation from the 4th century.