WUERZBURG, Germany (CWN) - Germany's bishops gathered on Monday to discuss the controversial issue of Catholic participation in the country's national abortion counseling system which requires a woman seeking an abortion to talk with a counselor and then receive a certificate before having the procedure.

      The bishops met behind closed doors in a monastery near Wuerzburg, while political leaders issued statements encouraging the Church to remain in the system. Some critics charge that requiring a counselor to issue a certificate allowing a woman to have an abortion, even after he has urged her to carry her baby to term, still makes the counselor a participant in the abortion.

      The bishops' meeting was prompted by an undisclosed letter from Pope John Paul on the issue. Speculation on the content of the letter has dominated Germany's news media in recent weeks. "The Church must help to make sure that children remain alive and women are not left on their own," declared Labor Minister Norbet Bluem, the longest-serving member of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's cabinet and a practicing Catholic. Kohl's Christian Democratic Union party, which has many Catholic supporters, is anxious to avoid a controversy which could cost votes in an election year.

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January 27, 1998 volume 9, no. 19          DAILY CATHOLIC