Pope defeats his abortion rebels

THE POPE finally prevailed yesterday over his rebellious German flock, forcing Catholic bishops to stop issuing bits of paper which amount to passports to abortion.

The outcome of the five-year battle pitting the Vatican against most of the German Church leaves only the lawyers happy, however. Catholic counsellors will continue to hand out slips to pregnant women, required by law before a pregnancy can be terminated. But the new documents will conclude with the sentence: "This certificate cannot be used for the carrying out of a legal abortion."

What it can be used for, was not immediately clear. Under a law enacted five years ago, women seeking an abortion must discuss their decision first with a counsellor. All the main churches as well as the state provide such service, and Catholics are not obliged to go to a Catholic counsellor.

But more than 20,000 Catholic women visit such centres run by their own church every year, expecting to be told that they were about to commit mortal sin. Some 5,000 change their minds and decide to have their child. The rest head for the nearest abortion clinic, armed with the certificate described by one hardline bishop as a "licence to kill".

What is the sum total of this terrible transaction - the saving of 5,000 lives and salvation for their mothers' souls, or complicity in the murder of 15,000? The German church has been seeking an answer to that question ever since the law was passed by a Christian Democrat government in 1994.

Before that, abortion was illegal, but the authorities had tried to turn a blind eye to the practice. While it is still not recognised as a constitutional right, the counselling loophole now lets law-abiding gynaecologists off the hook.

A deplorable state of affairs for all Catholics, but most clerics have argued that the church had a duty to stand by its brethren in their time of need. And that meant maintaining a nationwide network of 270 counselling offices. Withdrawal from the system, it was felt, would sever an important link to the faithful and alienate German believers, most of whom do not subscribe to the papal dogma on abortion.

This is where the matter had stood, until the conservative faction, led by Johannes Dyba, the Archbishop of Fulda, turned to the Vatican for extra muscle.

In January last year, the Pope obliged, instructing the German church to stop issuing the morally dubious documents. "The fate of the church must not hang on the offer of certificates," he said in a letter, acknowledging that German Catholicism would be damaged by his edict. The bishops met and gave in to the order, but set no time limit. Last week, the Pope ran out of patience. Another letter arrived, this time leaving no room for prevarication. "Here the church must be in one word and deed and must speak with the same voice," the pontiff declared. He made it clear the word was to be his; the last one on the subject.

The bishops gathered again this week, at a convent in Wurzburg. As Archbishop Dyba, the Pope's most loyal servant in Germany, rose to speak, lightning struck, felling a tree outside the window, knocking out the electricity supplies and plunging the room into darkness. Lay organisations had urged them to resist what, in the words of Walter Remmers, of the Central Committee of German Catholics, was "clearly the wrong decision". But after the bolt from above, Bishop Karl Lehmann, the liberal head of the German church, had no desire to fight.

Yesterday, he waved the flag of surrender, announcing that the church would remain in the state-funded system of counselling, and continue to issue certificates of a sort. "At the end of the day, the women will still have the freedom to do what they intended with this and other certificates," Bishop Lehmann said.

That, however, is not clear. "The solution dictated by the Pope to the bishops cannot meet the legal requirements for a gynaecologist," said Gunter Kidman, president of an association of gynaecologists. Christine Bergmann, the Family Minister, said: "This has created a legally ambiguous situation, and moreover adds to the psychological burden to women who are already facing a difficult decision."

The papers handed out by the Catholic counsellors bear the inscription: "The issuing of this certificate does not in any way mean that the termination of this pregnancy is accepted." This remains in force until October. After that, the task to interpret the church's new wording will probably fall to the courts. It is one domain where the Vatican has no obvious influence.

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

English Teacher (Bristol and South Gloucestershire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: English teachers for day to day cover,...

Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 6 Teacher RequiredThis teaching...

SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week