Morning-after pills for rape victims might be accepted by Catholic bishops in Germany, according to their chairman Robert Zollitsch. The clerics have begun a four-day conference facing hefty pressure to adopt reforms.
Catholic bishops began their assembly in the Moselle river city of Trier on Monday facing lingering outrage - inside and outside the church - after last month's refusals by two Catholic hospitals in Cologne to treat a rape victim.
Opening the Trier conference, Archbishop Zollitsch (pictured above) said public consternation over the victim's rejection was "so high" and he expected bishops to discuss the issue objectively and to adopt a joint line to enable usage.
This was likely to allow medics to prescribe morning-after pills to rape victims, assuming these prevented sperm from fertilizing an egg in the womb and did not induce an abortion, Zollitsch said.
Last month's incident prompted Cologne's conservative Cardinal Joachim Meisner - an ally of outgoing Pope Benedict XVI - to signal readiness to modify his policy in early February. He had previously barred clinic staff from prescribing emergency contraceptives.
Zollitsch reiterated on Monday that a Catholic clinic could not and should not turn away persons seeking help.
The Trier agenda of the German Bishops Conference, as it is officially called, also includes proposals to include women more in leadership positions. Zollitsch said ordination for women was however not contemplated.
Outside Trier's Catholic cathedral activists demanded that the Catholic church provide full disclosure of sexual abuse cases dating back decades in which wayward priests molested children and youths, mainly boys.
Last month, bishops terminated a contract with a renowned German criminologist Christian Pfeiffer who they had commissioned to conduct an independent study into cover-ups.
The Hanover-based professor and former regional state justice minister who heads a criminological research institute accused bishops of wanting to censor his team's findings, a charge the church rejected.
The church subsequently said it would find replacement researchers.
ipj/hc (dpa, kna, epd, Reuters)