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Wednesday, June 23, 1999 Published at 22:26 GMT 23:26 UK

World: Europe

German bishops bow to Pope's pressure

The bishops have come up with a compromise

By BBC Religious Affairs Reporter Jane Little

Germany's Roman Catholic bishops have agreed to alter their policy on providing counselling services for women seeking an abortion.

This follows an ultimatum from the Pope, and one of the most contentious public debates in Germany in recent years.

Announcing its decision, the Bishops' Conference said the Church would continue to offer advice to women wanting abortions and to issue them with certificates.

But it said a disclaimer would be added to the certificates, making it clear they could not be used for procuring a legal abortion.

Under German law, women seeking an abortion must first obtain a counselling certificate - a service widely provided by the Church.

The change of policy follows lengthy negotiation with the Vatican.

[ image: The Pope put pressure on the German bishops]
The Pope put pressure on the German bishops
The Pope had originally wanted the bishops to end their controversial involvement in abortion counselling, while German politicians on all sides had urged the bishops to disobey the Pope and continue with a valued service.

Now after a two-day meeting in Bavaria, the bishops have decided they will continue the service. But in agreeing to insert a disclaimer on the certificate, the bishops have distanced themselves from a practice that the Church teaches is murder.

The problem is that access to a legal abortion is what the certificate is generally used for.

The Catholic Church runs one in six of Germany's abortion counselling centres, and many bishops argue that it helps them dissuade women from having an abortion.

Lay Catholics have reacted angrily to the decision. A spokesman for the influential We Are the Church movement said it throws up huge dilemmas for lawyers, doctors and the women involved.

And one commentator said that women will simply go elsewhere, to one of the centres offered by the Protestant churches and other organisations.

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