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Friday, September 24, 1999 Published at 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK

World: Europe

German bishops defy Pope over abortion

The bishops are under pressure from laymen

The Roman Catholic church in Germany is resisting pressure from the Pope who wants to stop it offering counselling to women considering abortions.

The BBC's Frank Bartlett in Frankfurt: "The announcement sets the scene for further confrontations."
At the end of a four day conference in Fulda, German bishops were divided over whether to comply with a letter from the Pope demanding they cut their links with the advice centres.

The Vatican believes the German church is facilitating abortion by issuing counselling certificates which are required by law in Germany before a pregnancy can be terminated.


[ image: The Pope wants the counselling stopped completely]
The Pope wants the counselling stopped completely
In June, after an ultimatum from the Holy See, the bishops agreed to alter their policy on counselling services for women seeking an abortion.

They decided to add a disclaimer to counselling certificates, making it clear they could not be used for procuring a legal abortion.

At a news conference on Friday, Germany's top bishop, Karl Lehmann, said the church would seek fresh talks with the Vatican to explain its position.

In the meantime, it would continue to offer advice to pregnant women in distress.

It had not been possible to achieve a unified position at the meeting, Bishop Lehman said, although there had been tough discussions. The most important thing was now to continue together "on the right path".

The church's counselling services helped save 5,000 babies a year by talking women out of having abortions, the bishop said.

A church divided

[ image: Bishop Lehman was not able to present a united front]
Bishop Lehman was not able to present a united front
But the Pope's intervention has divided the German bishops, one of the BBC's correspondents in Germany says.

Today's decision means that each bishop should follow his own conscience.

Some dioceses will continue the present counselling practice, while others will comply with the Pope's wish and stop providing the service.

The divison within the Roman Catholic Church is one of Germany's most heated debated in recent years.

It has generated numerous television and radio debates, especially in the predominantly Catholic south of the country.

Commentators say Friday's statement could spark increasing tension between the Vatican and Germany's more liberal minded bishops.

The German bishops will have a chance to explain their differing points of view to the Pope when they meet him face-to-face in Rome in November.

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