Friday, January 25, 2008

Ten years ago Pope John Paul II ordered an exit from pregnancy crisis counseling in Germany.

Cathcon translation of Ein Riss durch die Kirche- a split in the Church

Article by Stephan Köhnlein

Frankfurt / Main, Germany (AP) The issue of abortion is a topic that irritates- especially in the Catholic Church. As part of the legally required pregnancy crisis counseling Catholic institutions issued for years certificates that allowed for abortion free from prosecution. Ten years ago - on 26 January 1998 Pope John Paul II asked the German bishops to exit from this system - the beginning of a lengthy debate, in which the German bishops ultimately had to full into line with the Vatican.

Since 1995, the amended “Abortion” Clause 218 of the Penal Code has applied. This allows for an abortion without legal sanction, if a prior consultation of the pregnant women in an emergency and crisis situation had taken place. The advice is expressly to protect the unborn life.

In his heatedly discussed letter the Pope declared in January 1998, that the issuing of certificates was a shadow over the witness of the Church. In tone, the head of the church at this time notably did not go as far as some such as the Fulda bishop, Johannes Dyba, who lashed out at the certificate as a mere "license to kill" or the then Head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, who accused the German bishops of assisting in murder.

But there were also among the bishops supporters of remaining in the state counseling system such as Hermann-Josef Spital from Trier or from Freiburg, Archbishop Oskar Saier. As an argument for a continuation of the provision is that with the advice many women could be moved to carry their children to full term. Specific advice, even if the result remained open, was thought the best way to protect unborn life. If the advice was not given irrespective of outcome, the women would seek out other advisory bodies.

Even one day after the papal letter, the German bishops agreed that Catholic institutions expected from 1999 to no longer issue licences, but remain in the legally prescribed advice system. The national and regional govermments stressed that the abortion law will not be changed. Some German states said without the certificates, the church counseling bodies would no longer receive state subsidy.

The Chairman of the Bishops' Conference, Karl Lehmann, proposed a counseling letter. This would lay down the advice to pregnant women via one of the church institutions. In early February 1999, in Rome Lehmann submitted his report on the possibilities for further counseling practice, but without personally speaking with the Pope.

A few days later, at the Bishops' Conference in Lingen, Lehmann stressed that he wanted to avoid a split among the ranks of the Faithful. The bishops agree on an advisory and assistance plan for pregnant women. Catholic laity organizations called on the Pope to accept the plan. Also, the Prime Ministers of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Thuringen sent the Pope a letter, seeking support for the state system respectively.

On 20 May Lehmann held talks in Rome with the Pope, but almost four weeks later, John Paul II invited the German Bishops, from the end of 1999, no longer to issue advisory certificates. The Bishops' Conference then announced that church advisory certificates will be marked that they could not be used for an abortion. The church hoped to continue within the state’s pregnancy crisis counseling.

Regardless of the official Catholic church, laity wanted to continue a pregnancy crisis counseling issuing certificates in conformance with the law. This is why, on 24 September 1999 the association Donum Vitae (Gift of Life) was formed . Today Donum Vitae is found at over 180 locations in the Federal Republic with advice or field centres. Women, men and couples are advised regardless of their nationality or religion

On 20 November, the Pope told the German bishops again in a letter that in the future pregnant women should no longer be issued with any certificate. Three days later, the German Bishops' Conference after a two-day consultative period finally left the pregnancy crisis counselling - with transitional periods of sometimes more than a year.

After 1 January 2001, the Catholic Church did not issue anymore certificates - with one exception: only one German Diocese - Limburg remains following a compromise with the Vatican that they can provide pregnancy crisis counseling until the end of the year.

But on 7 March 2002, the Pope also told this Diocese unequivocally to issue no more certificates. A day later, a visibly drawn Bishop Franz Kamphaus followed this instruction. He had fought with Rome and lost. The Catholic Church has thus completely removed from the German pregnancy crisis counseling scheme.

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