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Germany

Catholic Advice Online

The number of pregnant women seeking counseling from the German Catholic church has dropped. The Catholic aid agency Caritas has now turned to the Internet to reach more conflict-ridden women.

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Women uncertain whether to terminate their pregnancy can now go online for help.

Women seeking advice on unwanted pregnancy can now look to the Internet for counseling. The Catholic aid agency Caritas has set up an online chatroom on pregnancy and birth issues. Women can also send an e-mail to the counselors with their questions.

The possible issues are not just limited to whether to keep a child. Women can also find out about how to coordinate a child with a career, about financial and legal aspects, as well as potential conflicts with parents or a partner.

Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz, president of the German bishops' conference, said the Caritas online counseling was "an important link" in the network of Catholic advisory services for pregnant women.

He said it specifically addressed the lifestyle and habits of younger women, including "a certain objectivity and anonymity".

Papal pressure from the Vatican

Under German law, a woman wanting to terminate her pregnancy legally must first receive a certificate proving that she has been counseled by an advisory service.

Germany's Roman Catholic bishops initially took the view that, if they too offered counseling, of a strictly "pro-life" kind, they could encourage women who might otherwise terminate their pregnancies into giving birth instead.

By 1999, one-sixth of the over 1,500 such services in Germany were run directly by the Catholic church or by church-affiliated charities.

But the Vatican was against the church issuing such certificates for a legal abortion. Thus in 1999, the Pope ordered German Catholic dioceses and organizations to withdraw from the state-recognized conflict counseling centers.

Problems still there

Karl Lehmann

Karl Lehmann

Lehmann (photo), widely-known as a moderate, lobbied hard for the German church to continue its role in the health system, stating that "as long as the church is a church for the people, it must occupy itself with the problems facing society".

But under the enormous pressure from the Vatican, Lehmann eventually agreed to move the church-run centers away from furnishing the certificates without discontinuing counseling. In October 2000, the bishops' conference voted almost unanimously to stop issuing the certificates.

According to Lehmann, the number of pregnant women seeking advice from Catholic groups has fallen since then. But the problems connected with unwanted pregnancies were still present, he said.

"The plight of these women has not decreased," Lehmann said.

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