A letter from the head of the German bishops’ conference allowing employees who have worked in abortion counselling centres to work for the Church has reignited a decades-old controversy.
On 23 January Cardinal Reinhard Marx wrote to the lay body, the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), acknowledging that the Donum Vitae abortion counselling centres had saved thousands of lives by persuading pregnant women not to have a termination, and declaring that people who had worked for Donum Vitae could now be employed in counselling centres recognised by the Church, which was hitherto forbidden.
The centres issue certificates confirming that a mother has been counselled, and German law stipulates that a counselling certificate is necessary if an abortion is to be carried out.
The letter from Marx has been seen as an attempt at building a bridge to Donum Vitae after years of estrangement. In 1999, Pope John Paul II ordered the German bishops to close church-run pregnancy counselling centres as some women receiving counselling under their auspices went on to end their pregnancies and this made the Church complicit in the abortion process. A group of prominent lay Catholics then founded the Donum Vitae charity, which assumed control of the previously church-run centres.
In 2006, the bishops’ conference banned Catholics from cooperating with Donum Vitae, which was declared an “organisation outside the Catholic Church”. Exchange of personnel was expressly forbidden.
However, a week after Marx’s letter to the ZdK, the Cologne diocese pointed out that Donum Vitae remained “outside the Catholic Church”. Former members who wanted to work for the Cologne archdiocese would have to publicly distance themselves from the work they had done at Donum Vitae centres, the diocese said.
Meanwhile, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg recalled that while Donum Vitae deserved praise for saving so many lives, it remained outside the Church as it did not always protect the unborn child. He invited the association to join in the March for Life in Berlin on 22 September 2018.
A Donum Vitae spokeswoman deplored the fact that Cologne had rejected “Cardinal Marx’s outstretched hand”.
PICTURE: Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising and chairman of the Episcopal Conference, speaks at a press conference in September 2017