German Cardinal Smoothes Abortion Row | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 26.02.2005
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German Cardinal Smoothes Abortion Row

An official from the Catholic Church in Germany has smoothed over a row with Jewish leaders angered over Pope John Paul II's recent book which he juxtaposes the Holocaust and abortion.


Cardinal Lehmann called for sensitivity

Cardinal Karl Lehmann, head of the German Catholic bishops' conference, said on Friday that he had reached agreement with the president of German Jewish Council, Paul Spiegel, over incomparable status of the Holocaust."When the Holocaust is taken up or mentioned in political,
social or church speeches a particularly sensitive language is always needed," Lehmann said in a statement.

Jewish leaders in Germany were upset over the pope's new book "Memory and Identity" which evoked the Holocaust and the "legal extermination" that governments sanction by allowing abortion.

The book echoed similar remarks made by the cardinal of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, who compared the mass murder of Herod, Hitler and Stalin with abortion. He later expressed regret for his comparison.

Abortion not prosecuted

It's been thirty years since Germany's Constitutional Court struck down a law that would have legalized abortion in the first 12 weeks. To this day, article 218 in the German civil code makes abortion an offense -- but it won't be prosecuted.

One of the cornerstones in Germany when it comes to a possible pregnancy termination is counseling. A number of organizations in Germany counsel pregnant mothers encountering problems.

An abortion costs around €400 at professional clinics in Berlin. Because public health funds will not pay, women in the low-income bracket are supported by funds set aside by the city's government. Before that, an independently financed fund supported by private donations helped women who were in a tough financial situation.

For women from Catholic-dominated Poland, Berlin has become a prime destination if they are seeking to terminate a pregnancy. They are familiar with all the addresses of doctors who perform abortions despite what for them is a very expensive procedure.

German Catholic Church in dilemma


Pope John Paul II demanded that the members of the German Catholic Church would not sign anything that would lead to an abortion

The Catholic Church in Germany, dictated by the Pontiff in Rome, has taken a hard stance against abortion. An ongoing debate in the late 1990's led between Pope John Paul and the German Catholic Church led to a papal decree that ended counseling that would lead to an abortion.

Until the end of 2000, church organizations could counsel women who were having difficulties of any kind during the pregnancy. If the woman did decide on termination, a church counselor would sign the mandatory paperwork declaring that the woman went through counseling.

As of January 1, 2001, the German Catholic Church suspended the signing of any forms that would accede to a woman's desire for an abortion. That would have to happen elsewhere.

Many in the German Catholic Church had argued that the counseling tool was effective in combating abortion and now feel they have lost a tool to persuade a woman to carry out a pregnancy to term.

Meanwhile, article 218 in the German civil code still makes abortion illegal. Yet the fact that the state does not prosecute is a compromise that Silvia Heyer, from the Pro Familia counseling group, can and must accept. She believes that the law correctly states that only a woman has a feeling as to what is acceptable in her life and "no men and no Catholic priests" would know this feeling.

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