After months of controversy, the leaders of Germany's Roman Catholic Church have agreed to a demand by Pope John Paul II that they end church participation in a system of compulsory counseling for women considering abortion.

"We have tried as long as possible to resist, but now we have lost," Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz, chairman of the German Bishops' Conference (DBK), said at a press conference last week. Bishop Lehmann's announcement is significant since he had previously refused to rule out the possibility of remaining within the current system. But despite Bishop Lehmann's announcement, a number of Catholic bishops have already announced that for the time being they are unable to follow the wishes of the Pope in withdrawing from the system.

Although abortion is technically illegal in Germany, women can obtain one if they get a certificate from an officially recognized counseling center stating that they have talked over the matter. Of Germany's 1685 counseling centers, 254 are sponsored by the Protestant church and 264 by two Catholic organizations.

Church organizations have traditionally played a major role in Germany in providing social services on behalf of the state.

Official church participation in the counseling system has deeply split Germany's Catholic community. Catholics critical of their church's participation in the system argue that by issuing certificates that will allow women, if they wish, to have an abortion, the church is an accessory to the killing of unborn life.

But Catholic supporters say that it is better for women considering abortions to attend centers run by the Catholic Church and that the church should not turn its back on women who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. They add that after ...

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