Bishops to justify pill use in rape cases


German Catholic bishops are poised to drop their outright opposition to the “morning after” pill after a rape victim was refused the treatment at two church-run hospitals.

Cologne doctors refused to prescribe the pill in December for fear of problems with their church employers. The case prompted a controversial debate and a surprise change of heart from one of Germany’s most conservative clergymen.

“If, after a rape, a medication is used with the intention of preventing conception, then this is justifiable,” said Cardinal Joachim Meisner.

News of the woman’s treatment had “shamed us deeply as it contradicts our Christian mission and understanding of ourselves”.

Two weeks ago, the cardinal’s spokesman said the doctors were right to refuse treatment as it had the effect of a chemically induced termination and was thus in contradiction to church teaching.

But Archbishop Meisner said he had shifted his position after a meeting with scientists. They told him not all morning after pills induced an early-term termination. Some just prevented egg fertilisation and were thus, he said, in keeping with church teaching.

‘Intensive debate’

The voice of the cardinal (79) carries weight in German church circles. On Saturday Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin, a fellow conservative, said he was anxious for an “intensive debate” on the matter at an upcoming synod in Trier.

“If there is new scientific knowledge about how the morning after pill works, it is necessary and important that the church debates this,” he said.

Church-watchers are unsure whether the remarks represent a shift in church teaching or readiness to adopt a more pragmatic approach to rape victims.

“As head shepherd Meisner was, I imagine, so shocked that he said it cannot be allowed to happen that Catholics withhold charity from assumed adherence to a certain moral theology,” said Otto Kallscheuer, philosopher and church historian, on national radio.