DAILY CATHOLIC     THURSDAY     June 24, 1999     vol. 10, no. 122

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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German Bishops Support Papal Decision

          WUERZBURG, JUN 23 (ZENIT).- The German Bishops have responded to John Paul II's letter, in which he requested them to take measures to avoid any kind of ambiguity in the certificates granted by the Catholic consultation centers for crisis pregnancies. Up to now, these certificates have allowed women the possibility of decriminalized abortion in established health institutions.

    Unity in Supporting Papal Position

          Following two days of meetings in the Bavarian monastery of Wuerzburg, Archbishop Karl Lehmann, president of the German Episcopal Conference, stated that the Bishops will implement the directives given in the Pope's letter.

          The Bishops' spokesman said that the Holy Father has never asked them to close the consultation centers to help mothers in difficulty, thus denying the constant rumors spread by the press.

          The document that the Catholic consultation centers will grant, after meeting with the mothers in difficulty, will contain the statement: "This certificate cannot be used for carrying out decriminalized abortions."

    Legality of New Certificate

          In Archbishop Lehmann's official statement on the matter, he also heads off criticism from pro-abortion groups who will likely claim that the new certificate perverts the spirit of the law. German law, says the Archbishop, "guarantees the Church the independent administration of its affairs within the limits of the law that applies to all. This free space also includes the entire scope of the Church's Caritas organization, and thus the advising of pregnant women."

          Secondly, he points out that the original reason for the consultation law was to "protect the life of the child." German law "requires the State to protect human life, including the unborn." In this case, Church law and State law actually coincide, according to the Archbishop.

          Arguing from these two points, Archbishop Lehmann concludes that "the ecclesial consultation centers in the scope of the Pregnancy and Family Health Amendments of August 21, 1995 fulfill their own task and will continue to exercise their activity."

    Vatican Clarification

          In order to clarify further John Paul II's position on this matter, the Secretariat of the Vatican State published a note explaining the context within which the Pontiff made this decision.

          The text, published by L'Osservatore Romano, explains that the Holy Father intervened because the Episcopal Conference had not come to a common decision on the problem. "The majority of Bishops wanted a new 'plan of consultation and help,' including consultation and compromising commitments that offer the woman support, help and mediations, proposing, in addition, a new formulation of the consultation certificate. However, another group of Bishops thought that this proposal did not fully correspond with the Pope's request and opted for a consultation that would refuse to grant a certificate according to the law."

    Synthesis of Conciliation

          The Vatican note says that in his letter the Pope "is aware of the essential demands of both opinions within the German Episcopal Conference and proposes a decision that will be a synthesis of conciliation." Thus, he requests that they help the mothers in difficulty but that at the same time they avoid any ambiguity, explaining in the certificate itself that this document does not justify the carrying out of decriminalized abortion.

          The Vatican note clarifies that, with this decision the Pope hopes to collaborate in the restoration of "unity of the Episcopal Conference on this important problem" and in overcoming "the tensions which have emerged in Catholic public opinion."

    Defense of Human Life

          "This clarification contributes to free the Catholic Church from a situation which obfuscated the clarity and resolution of its testimony in favor of the intangibility of all human life," the Secretariat of State explained.

          "The letter clarifies that in regard to this problem, all controversy is out of place. This is exclusively a commitment of love and truth in favor of the mother and child. The only winners must be the mothers in difficulty and the unborn children," the Vatican note concludes.

          The background on the German abortion consultation centers has presented thorny questions of law that followed this country's unification. It all began on June 29, 1995 when the Parliament in Bonn adopted by a large majority a law on abortion seeking a compromise between the extreme permissiveness that reigned in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and the much more restrictive attitude of the German Federal Republic (West Germany). Abortion was declared illegal, but it was decriminalized, on the condition that it took place during the first three months of pregnancy and that women would attend a consultation with psychologists, doctors and social workers in a consultation center.

          The certificate granted by the consultation center is not an authorization to abort, although in practice it is much like a "ticket" toward access to this intervention, which terminates the life of an unborn child.

    Assistance to Mothers in Difficulty

          Of the 1,700 consultation centers that operate in Germany within the framework of the law, 270 are directed by Caritas and 126 by the social service for Catholic women. Although it criticized the new law on abortion, the German Catholic Church considered it opportune to open its own structures of social assistance to women in difficulty and thus enter the system of consultation promoted by the law.

          The decision was made during the Bishops' plenary assembly in the autumn of 1995, and already at that time the Pope asked the Bishops to reflect thoroughly on the consequences: "Be on guard lest the consultation offered by Catholics makes you accomplices in the suppression of innocent lives."

          The Bishops reaffirmed that in the consultation centers attempts are made to dissuade from abortion and, in fact, in 20% of the cases, the women have changed their mind. Work within the state system allows the Church to get close to mothers in difficulty. However, in public opinion, especially among Catholics, the granting of a certificate permitting by an institution directed by the Church constituted a real problem of conscience. Juridically it could be justified -- morally, it remained a thorny problem.

    Avoid All Ambiguity

          For this reason, in January 1998, John Paul II requested the German Bishops to take the necessary measures to avoid this ambiguity. "A request which we welcome. We shall look for new ways," Archbishop Karl Lehmann, President of the Episcopal Conference said.

          As a result, a working group was created, which gave its results in February of this year. The German Bishops committed themselves to offer aid and assistance to mothers in difficulty and believed that the solution to the ethical problem was in a new formulation of the certificate granted by the consultation center. They produced three possible texts, one of them stating, "The distribution of this consultation and assistance plan in no way indicates an acceptance of the interruption of pregnancy."

          In responding to this proposal, the Pope requested, in a letter made public yesterday, that the text of this document add an explicit statement: "This certificate cannot be used for carrying out decriminalized abortions." ZE99062308 and ZE99062307

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

June 24, 1999       volume 10, no. 122


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