After Prodding, German Bishops Withdraw From Counseling

COLOGNE, Germany—The German bishops have agreed to follow Pope John Paul II's instruction to withdraw from the state system of pregnancy counseling, while Catholic lay organizations are making plans to replace the Church's counseling centers with their own.

Following a meeting Nov. 23, the bishops announced that they would be reorganizing the Church's counseling provisions to conform with the Pope's requirements.

Counselors will no longer be allowed to issue a certificate allowing a woman to have a legal abortion. The action followed the Pope's most pointed remarks on the subject, delivered Nov. 20 to a group of German prelates in Rome on their ad limina visit. The talk also dwelt on the proper role of the laity in the Church's governance.

Under German law, a woman seeking a legal abortion must present a certificate stating that she has received counseling. The Church runs about one-sixth of Germany's 1,500 counseling centers.

The German bishops have argued that by offering counseling certificates, the Church attracts women who are considering abortion to its centers where counselors can try to convince the women not to terminate their pregnancies.

The Pope wrote to the bishops in September that they could no longer issue counseling certificates. He said a compromise proposal to state on the documents that they “cannot be used for legally carrying out abortions” had proved unsatisfactory because abortion clinics continued to accept the certificates.

The German bishops conference postponed implementation of the Pope's instruction, and said the Church intended to keep counseling pregnant women, “especially those in conditions of particular need and difficulty.” Some of the bishops, however, called for a new service that provides counseling without issuing certificates.

The bishops said they would explore the possibility of remaining within the state system without having to issue the certificate.

The chairman of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz, a supporter of the present system, said after the meeting: “We have fought and we have lost. Now we'll have to make the best of it for the future.”

Many people are claiming the right to construct the Church as if it were a type of ‘multinational’ governed by men who are more or less intelligent.

The most prominent supporter of the Pope's position, Archbishop Johannes Dyba of Fulda, said there were no winners and no losers: “The Holy Year is about to begin and we have quite different worries and joys.”

In his Nov. 20 ad limina address, the Pope also criticized lay groups for trying to exercise undue influence in the affairs of the Church, saying they were acting against the will of Christ.

The talk focused on the Church as mystery, an aspect the Pope said has escaped many lay Catholics who are pressing for change in Church policies.

“Many people are claiming the right to construct the Church as if it were a type of ‘multinational’ governed by men who are more or less intelligent. But in reality, the Church as mystery is not ‘ours’ but ‘his’: It is the people of God, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

The Pope said the German bishops have had to spend a lot of time and energy countering “groups that try to provoke in the Church, through concerted action or insistent pressure, changes that do not correspond to the will of Christ.”

After emphasizing the fundamental difference that exists between the royal priesthood of believers and the ministerial priest-hood, the Holy Father said that one must reject, as being against Christ's will, any attempt to clericalize the laity or vice versa.

He reminded lay Catholics that obedience and respect for pastors was required for genuine renewal in the Church.

“In the contemporary age, in which there is much talk about emancipation both in civil society and in the Church, there is a growing idea that true freedom can be gained by detachment from the Church,” he said. Bishops should oppose this trend, pointing out that even the great reform-minded saints never left the Church, he said.

On the issue of women priests, the Pope said he was aware of a “growing unease” among Germans about how women are treated in the Church. He said the bishops should make it clear that while the Church does respect women, it cannot accept a confusion between their “human and civil rights” and the rights and duties of the ordained priesthood.

He said that in a 1994 apostolic letter, “the Church has no power whatsoever to confer the priestly consecration on women,” and had insisted that there be no further debate on the issue. He said this teaching against women's ordination shares in the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium, as taught unanimously by the Pope and all the world's bishops.

Consequently, the bishops should “reject all contrary opinion, whether proposed by individuals or groups,” and should correct misinterpretations among the faithful. (From combined wire services)