German Cardinals-to-Be: a Gesture for Unity?

Conference Was Divided Over Abortion-Certificate Issue

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ROME, JAN. 31, 2001 ( By naming two more German cardinals, John Paul II is hoping to restore unity within that nation´s bishops´ conference, a Vatican observer said.

Among the seven cardinals-to-be announced Sunday by the Pope were Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz, and Bishop Johannes Joachim Degenhardt of Paderborn. They will be among the 44 new cardinals created at the Feb. 21 consistory.

Bishop Lehmann, 64, president of the German bishops´ conference, could always count on the active participation of Bishop Degenhardt, 75, in plenary assembly debates, observers said.

The Italian newspaper Avvenire speculated that the Pope hopes the bishops´ elevation will help restore unity among German bishops. The episcopal conference has been divided over the issue of how Catholic Consultation Centers should participate in a public system of assistance to pregnant women who are considering abortion.

Certificates granted by the centers became a prerequisite under German law for a woman to have an abortion with impunity.

The ensuing debates triggered a «rupture» within the bishops´ conference that, in fact, became a «long process of reflection and maturation» on the delicate question, wrote Salvatore Mazza, Vatican correspondent for the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

The debate lasted 10 years. Some of the German bishops, among whom was Bishop Lehmann of Mainz, believed that the duty to save as many lives as possible was a priority, which called for the presence of the Catholic Consultation Centers in the public system.

On the contrary, Archbishop Johannes Dyba of Fulda, who had the support of Bishop Degenhardt, realized that many people did not understand how the Catholic centers could be opposed to abortion and at the same time grant the document which made abortion with impunity possible. Archbishop Dyba died in July.

Just over a year ago, John Paul II asked the Catholic Consultation Centers to offer their assistance to pregnant women but not grant the certificate making abortion possible. He explained that one of the Church´s priorities is to witness unequivocally to life.

The Pope´s request was not easily accepted by some Catholic associations working in this field. It meant the Catholic centers would have to leave the system and lose state subsidies, as well as contact with mothers in difficulty who would otherwise never ask for the Church´s advice.

As a result, the consultation centers as of Jan. 1 ceased to issue the controversial certificates. The Church, however, still offers broad assistance to mothers in difficulty, from financial help to finding a home.

On Monday, the Roman newspaper Il Messaggero reported that it was hard for 12 bishops to accept the papal decision. However, Bishop Lehmann himself worked so that the prelates would comply with the measure.

On Jan. 22, the Diocese of Limburg, the latest to accept the Pope´s measure, published a statement in which its bishop, Franz Kamphaus, announced that the Catholic centers would remain in the public system. But, it said, measures would be taken so that there would be no doubt about «the weight of the single-minded witness of the Church in favor of life.» The statement clarified that the decision is in no way opposed to the Pope´s appeal in defense of life.

The declaration was the result of a meeting in the Vatican between Bishop Kamphaus, who was accompanied by Bishop Lehmann, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal-designate Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

«In this light, the double German nomination, announced on Sunday by the Pope, must be read as a homage to the unity of the Church,» which has recovered in the wake of the now-resolved debate, journalist Mazza wrote in Avvenire.

On Jan. 21, the Pope designated two other Germans as cardinals: Bishop Emeritus Walter Kasper of Rottenburg-Stuttgart and theologian Monsignor Leo Scheffczyk.

«Over the years,» Bishop Lehmann told Vatican Radio the day after his being designated a cardinal, «I have been faced with many enmities and brusque insinuations, such as lack of loyalty to Rome and similar things. I feel this appointment is an appropriate response to all this. I have never been in doubt over the Holy Father´s position as regards Germany, and I think the naming of no less than four [German] cardinals is significant. I think it has been a very clear sign.»

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