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Germany

A Bishop Loses His Battle of Conscience

After years of counseling women considering abortion all the while facing down opposition from the Vatican, Germany's Bishop Franz Kamphaus gave in to a papal order last week ordering him to stop.

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"I respect the Pope’s decision of conscience but I personally cannot back it."

For years, German Bishop Franz Kamphaus had fought his boss in Rome for the right to counsel women considering an abortion.

He pled through letters and personal appearances before Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. He presented numbers showing how the counselng actually convinced more women to have their children.

He kept his work up, even as his colleagues in the bishop’s conference followed the papal order in Sept. 1999 to stop issuing the counseling certificates German law required before a woman could have an abortion.

At the end of last week, the Pope finally put an end to Kamphaus’ solitary campaign, relieving him of his counseling duties and assigning them his deputy.

"For the sake of ... unity"

The decision, the Pope wrote, was "for the sake of the clarity and unity of the witness for life of the Catholic Church."

"I respect your inner conflicts," the Pope wrote, "but cannot agree on the the results that you have reached."

The letter put an end to a internal battle that had been waged since Germany changed ist abortion law in 1995. Under the new rules women wanting an abortion had to terminate their pregancy within the first 12 weeks and receive a counseling certificate proving they had been counseled three days prior to the abortion.

The church's inner conflict

The church was caught in a conflict: Provide counseling with the hope of convincing many to have the child but with the knowledge that some would go ahead and abort it.

Kamphaus was sure counseling would save many lives. He even traveled to Rome last year to present statistics showing his methods increased the percentage of women who had the child from 30 to 50 percent.

But it was the remaining 70 to 50 percent that doomed his argument in the eyes of his colleagues.

The church, it was decided in 1999, wanted no part in a woman’s eventual decision to abort. The German Bishop’s Conference followed the papal order and stopped all counseling by the end of 2000.

Only Kamphaus remained. That changed on Thursday.

The pope, who is too weak to make public appearances anymore, ordered him stripped of his counseling duties. Those duties, he ruled, would be now be the pope’s personal domain.

Continuing on, but with a heavy heart

"I am convinced that our way of counseling women could save the lives of many more children," Kamphaus told a news conference. "I respect the Pope’s decision of conscience but I personally cannot back it."

The pope ordered Kamphaus’ deputy to overtake counseling women but encouraged Kamphaus to remain bishop. The 70-year-old, who had given his life to the church, agreed, but with a heavy heart.

"I remain bishop of Alimburg then, wounded but unbroken in my readiness to do with you in the spirit of the Gospel what we can do for the poor, for the diocese and for cordial realtions in the church as a whole."

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